Victor Daniels’ lecture notes, May 6, 2005.
AS MUCH A PSYCHOLOGY AS A RELIGION. Buddha was the most psychological of history’s noted spiritual teachers. When asked about the existence and character of God, he replied that he did not concern himself with that question, but that the nature of suffering and how to decrease it, in this life, was the essence of his teachings. How to make this life a good and satisfying one, beneficial to ourselves and others. We could as well call it an ethics, or a psychological system. But psychology did not exist in his day, and religion was the available vehicle for transmitting his teachings.
Enlightenment, liberation, or awakening. .”Buddha” means “The enlightened one” or depending on your translation “the liberated one.””A buddha is a human being with sufficient determination and resolve to have traversed the path to become enlightened. There have been numerous buddhas, but only one Gautama Buddha of Kapilavastu, who is known as the Buddha.His description of himself: I am an ordinary human being who has become liberated from many of the causes of suffering.
“The Buddha was a profoundly good person,” writes contemporary Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein. He was generous and moral, restrained and patient, honest and openhearted. He was also tough. He did not confuse passion with passivity. He obligated monks and nuns to leave the community when their presence was disruptive. . . He acted wisely and energetically, out of love, on behalf of all beings. We could too.” (Boorstein, 2002, p. 2)
STORIES: ABOUT BUDDHA’S LIFE, AND SOME OF HIS TEACHING STORIES
I will not repeat here the stories told aloud in class, but will merely list them. These lecture notes sum up what I take to be the essence of his teachings. The stories include:
- Siddhartha Gautama’s first meeting with Yasodhara, and her contribution to the emancipation of Indian women.
- The young Siddhartha Gautama going out from the palace to the pleasure garden and seeing an aged man, a sick man, a dead man, and a monk.
- Adventures with ascetic teachers and the realization of the Middle Way
- Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya
- The law of karma, suffering, samsara, and Nirvana
- The founding and organizing of an order of monks
- Yasodhara and Rahula join the order
- The conceited Brahmin
- Malunkyaputra and the arrow
- Helping with the resolution of worldly problems and conflicts
- The woman whose son died and the mustard seed.
A WORD ABOUT YASODHARA–INDIA’S FIRST FEMINIST? Buddha’s wife Yasodhara, who, together with their son, ultimately also left the court and joined Buddha after he had been through his wandering ascetic phase and founded his movement, was a very independent woman. From the beginning she refused to wear veils as almost all women on the subcontinent did at that time, liberating countless subsequent generations of Hindu and Buddhist women who followed her lead from that custom. Today, in India it is largely only Muslim women who wear veils.
SOME BASIC IDEAS
On Belief and Experience: Buddha encouraged people to question and think through what he said. He declared, “Believe nothing until you have experienced it and found it to be true. Accept my words only after you have examined them for yourselves; do not accept them simply because of the reverence you have for me.” He advanced his teachings as a method that each person could experiment with for themselves, and made no demand that his followers “believe” on his authority. He told his others to accept each aspect of his teaching only after they had tried it out for themselves andfound it to work. When your experimentation confirms one step, then try another. In this sense he had a very “scientific” understanding. Sadhatissa writes, “these ‘truths’ are…the result of one man’s truth and freedom, and they have beenfound valid by many millions who followed after him; but each individual, in so far as he is a true follower of the Buddha, must reason out each step for himself, and must in time come to experience the truth, not by hearsay but by direct knowledge during his own lifetime.” (p. 37)I find this a refreshing contrast to the authoritarian stance of many gurus and religious authorities of East and West alike that “MY way is the RIGHT way, and if you want to be saved or liberated or enlightened you have to believe what I tell you to.
The Middle Path: Out of your experience of your extremesr, find a middle path that avoids attachment to the worldliness of possessions, power and reputation on one hand, and the painful, vain, and unprofitable extreme of excessive asceticism on the other. Buddha was unusual in Indian tradition in that he renounced not only worldly ways but also extreme asceticism. He realized that instead of mental clarity and inner peace, the severe asceticism to which he subjected himself had impaired his health and dulled his mind. He formulated the Middle Way after having been brought back to health and hearing a story of a Lyre strunt too loosely, too tight, and just right. You can find your own Middle Way in all things. Avoid being too extreme even in espousing the Middle Way itself.
Letting Go. Tibetan Lama Tarthang Tulku offers a useful clarification: “There are two kinds of ‘giving up’ or ‘letting go’. There is giving up attachments, and there is giving up because of difficulties and disappointments. The person who has inner strength and openness does not ‘give up’—but gives up grasping and attachment, and consequently gains freedom and conflidence.”(1977, p. 9)
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
Budha elucidated the Four Noble Truths in his frst sermon, given at the Deer Park in Sarnath, just outside Benares, or Varenasi (today it is a suburb of Benares).
- Suffering (some translations use “unhappiness”) exists. It is built into the very structure of our existence. suffering includes ordinary pain, the suffering of unwanted change, and the suffering of pervasive conditioning.
- Suffering has a cause. Its cause is self-centered craving, and desire for that which will not beobtained. Out of this comes grabbing, clinging, or rejecting. Much of this is bound to fail because wefail to deeply realize the truth of impermanence, so that we grasp at the constant, changing flux of life asif it were something stable and fixed. These causes are part of a series of interconnected links of cause andeffect which create a vicious circle from which there appears to be no escape. We meet new situations stillencumbered with the viewed and attitudes of the past, which create still more ties which bind us to the wheelof suffering. “We grasp at an illusion and run chasing after it…dreaming and waking,” writes Sadhatissa. (p. 42)
- Suffering can cease (or be greatly reduced) Through letting go of conditioned states and views, and desires which will not be fulfilled, the cause of suffering falls away.Buddha stated that about 1/3 of our suffering is an inevitable function of the conditions of human life,-but we ourselves create the rest of it. We can learn to stop doing that.
- There is a path that leads to the cessation of suffering and unhappiness, called the Eightfold Path. Nirvana is a state in which we no longer create avoidable suffering and unhappiness for ourselves and others. (It parallels Jesus’ concept of the “Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.” In this state we do not create avoidable unhappiness due to unrealistic desires or other causes. What Nirvana is not: It does not require inovlvement with the conceptual construct of a God or deity-figure.
The most helpful attitude to take toward the Four Noble Truths, Buddha said, is a “confidence-based knowledge” that there is a path to tread and that positive results can come from following that path.
The term Dhamma or Dharma is often used in Buddhist tradition for the collected body of Buddha’s teachings, as in the term, “I take refuge in the Dharma.”
THE EIGHTFOLD PATH
The Eightfold Path is devoted to changing the habits of mind that create avoidable suffering. “In order to get rid of suffering we need to eliminate the causes and conditions of suffering, and in order to achieve happiness we need to acuire the causes and conditions of happiness,” notes the Dalai Lama (2002, p. 59) Boorstein adds, “We can learn to “act, speak, work, and manage our relationships in a way that procuces a contented heart,” (2002, p. 6).
A background condition of the Eightfold Path is recogition of the interdependence of cause and effect, called the doctrine of karma/vipaka. We are conditioned by all that we have been and done, all that we have been told, and all situations in which we have lived, yhet in every present moment we are consciously or unconsciously determing the future. Our life is both the vipaka of the past and thekarma of the future. “The intricate interplay of the myriad strands of kamma/vipakia, some reinforcing each other, some counterbalancing, some fading, some waxing strong”, is said to have been one of the realizations that came to Buddha as he sat under the pipal tree in Bodh Gaya. (Saddhatissa, p. 46)
The eight elements are: (Here I have substituted the terms “helpful and beneficial” for the more commonly used “Right” as in “Right Views” because they encourage thinking and awareness, whereas “Right” may result in measureing your behavior against some conception of a rigid formula in a way that is less likely to encourage thinking and awareness. In the Brief Summary, also on this website, I use the conventional “Right.” )
- Helpful & beneficial understanding or views
- Helpful & beneficial thought or motives
- Helpful & beneficial speech
- Helpful & beneficial action
- Helpful & beneficial livelihood
- Helpful & beneficial effort
- Helpful & beneficial mindfulness
- Helpful and beneficial concentration
Now, one by one:
1. Helpful & beneficial understanding or views. “Understanding” is sometimes translated as “knowledge” or “views.” The term “understanding” seems to leave more latitude for thinking in terms of a broader conception of wisdom. This principle is concerned with the content and direction of your thinking. You are making an effort to stop mechanical, automatic thinking. You regularly question your old beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions. You endeavor to let go of egoism and egotism. The Dalai Lama adds, “Put others first; you yourself come next. This works even from a selfish viewpoing. . . If you show other people kindness, love, and respect, they will respond in kind; this way your happiness will increase. . . Ordinary selfishness focuses only on your own needs, but if you are wisely selfish, you will treat others just as well as you treat those close to you. . . . So even from a selfish viewpoint, you get better results by respecting others, serving others, and reducing self-centeredness.” Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield add, “Right understanding starts by acknowledging the suffering and difficulties in the world around us as well as in our own lives. Then it asks us to . . . find what we really care about, and to use that in the basis of our spiritual practice. When we see that things are not quite right in others and in ourselves, we also become aware of another possibility.” (1987, p. 4)
2. Helpful & beneficial motives. This principle is concerned with the character and quality of the emotional drives that underlie your thoughts. Beneficial thoughts and actions are usually based on beneficial motivation. You move away from suffering from emotional blocks that interfere with clear thinking. Be willing to work through and let go ofr any old emotional & motivational reactions that may obstruct your clarity of thought and perception.Boorstein frames the Second Noble Truth a little differently. She states it as: “Wise Intention: motivation, inspired by understanding, to end suffering.” (p. 15)
3. Helpful and beneficial speech is free from a commitment to being “right,” from dogmatic or authoritarian statements, from self-righteousness, and from trying to make yourself better by putting yourself above others and causing them to feel less. Such speech avoids gossip, malicious talk, back-biting, slander, talk intended to stir up people’s hatred or violence, telling secrets told in confidence, judgmental put-downs and other forms of one’upmanship. Requires an ongoing effort to be honest with oneself. Speaking less, we listen more. “Do not lie to anyone at all,” writes the Dalai Lama. “There are exceptions, when lying can result in great benefit to others, but they are rare.” (2002, p. 106).
4. Helpful and beneficial action. “Never cheat anyone and always remain honest,” advises the Dalai Lama. (2002, p. 106) This Noble Truth is based on a recognition of the omnipresence of karma. Includes the Bodhissatva path. The Bodhissatva is one who has “crossed the river” from samsara (illusion) to nirvana (liberation, enlightenment), and then instead of simply hanging out in enjoyment of the enlightened state, comes back to help others cross the river. This is the essence of the Mayayana (“large vehicle”) path.
5. Helpful and beneficial livelihood is that which does not cause harm to others or to yourself. It is livelihood that is consitant with your nature and that can further your own development. Your reading in Saddhatissa elaborates this in detail.
6. Helpful and beneficial effort involves cultivating skillful, peaceful habits of mind–especially insight, intuition, and will-power. Insight helps us perceive which of our usual and habitual states of mind are useful and valuable to preserve or strengthen, and which are unhelpful and deserving of our effort to let go of.
7. Helpful and beneficial Mindfulness.This is one of the most central elements of the Buddhist path. “The essence of awakening is. . . to see clearly and directly the truth of our experience in each moment, to be aware, to be mindful,” write Goldstein & Kornfield (p. 5). This . . . systematic development and opening of awareness [includes] the four foundattions of mindfulness: awareness of the body, awareness of feelings, awareness of mental phenomena, and awareness of truths, of the laws of expdrience.” (p 5) In mindfulness we are not asked to “think about” or conceptualize, but to simply “pay attention to.” There is a phenomenological quality about this. One outcome is the development ofequanimity (even-mindedness). In Saddatissa’s words, “To abide in mindfulness is to see the world clearly and to see our fellow men clearly, without judgment, without envy, without hatred. To be able to do this we must know ourselves intimately and know the source of happiness and unhappiness within us”. (1971, p. 23)
8. Helpful and beneficial concentration.In Boorstein’s words, this is “cultivating a steady, focused, ease-filled mind.” Right concentration refers to concentrative meditation, the cultivation of mental disciplines that further our ability to be mindful. This can help us move away from “money mind” to the ability to maintain a clear and steady focus of our attention and awareness
- The challenge and the paydirt in the eightfold path, of course is in the nitty-gritty grasp of the it and how to put each of the eight principles into practice. By misunderstanding them, we can go astray. This is where a capable teacher comes in.
- Compared to most other religious, spiritual, or transformative paths (and even some varieties of later Buddhism), Buddha’s own teachings are remarkable for their succinctness, organization, and clarity. We are clearly looking at a remarkably penetrating mind at work. This is probably due to the unusual combination of a young man having brought up to be a king, to rule, and having been given the training to do that well, in combination with a fundamentally spritual and psychological disposition and inclination.
SOURCES OF UNHAPPINESS (UNWHOLESOME STATES)
Ignorance and delusion. We believe things that are not so, out of conditioning by others or limited experience, and fail to recognize things that are so. At the very heart of Buddha’s teachings was the principle that ‘when we see clearly, we behave impeccably.” (Boorstein, 17)
Afflictive desire, craving, and grasping. Some measure of desire is a normal and necessary part of life. If we did not desire water we would soon die. But we also desire things that we will not get; we desire things that are bad for us if we do get them, and we are afflicted by craving and grasping that cause us to act in ways destructive to us and other. Philosopher Archie Bahm suggests that the essence of Buddha’s philosophy is: Desire for what will not be attained ends in frustration; therefore, to avoid frustration and suffering, avoid desiring what will not be attained. (p. 15) However, notes Bahm, “it is natural to want more –at least a little more–than one gets. The frustration entailed in this unattained more is ever-present.Secondly, one cannot always anticipate precisely what will be attained.” In the face of such uncertainty, we hope for the better, but to the extent that this is more than we get, we will be frustrated. Also, (points out Bahm), since effort of will or strength of desire itself often influences the outcome, we ought to desire strongly enough to assure adequate effort, but desires are not equipped with automatic antilock brakes, so inevitably desires often overshoot their mark. While wanting enough food to survive comfortably is good, I may crave sumptious gourmet meals and expensive wines. Or I may want someone to love me whose romantic interests are elsewhere. In general, the stronger the craving, the more bitter the frustration.
Hatred, jealousy, and envy. “There are two classes of afflictive emotions–one that is better expressed and the other that is better not expressed,” says the Dalai Lama. “An example of the former is a terrible fear from the past that becomes fixed in the mind. In this case, it is definitely best to let your feelings out and discuss the incident. . . . The other class of counterproductive emotions–which include such feelings as lust, hatred, enmity, jealousy, and belligerence–should not be expressed. . . . Expressing them tends to make them stronger and more prevalent. It is better to reflect on the disadvantages of such emotions and try to displace them with feelings of satisfaction and love.” (2002, pp. 44-5)
Impermanence. The source of unhappiness is not the impermanence itself, which is a condition of life to be recognized, but a poignant desire for that which is impermanent to endure beond its time. This includes attachments to people, things, and circumstances that will inevitably pass away, and failure to recognize that many sources of satisfaction in life are temporary and by the conditions of their existence will pass away. When we accept impermanence, “We see the truth of change. We begin to understand how fragile life is and how, most surely, we will lose everything that is dear to us. At some point, in some way, we ask ourselves . . . ‘Is there some way I can do this life with my eyes open and my heart open and still love it? Is there a way not to suffer?’ The pain of that question calls us to attention, just as it did the Buddha. And out of that attention, the intention to be free is born.” (Boorstein, 27)
Identification with possession. “My. . . ” Literally, this is materialism. “If only I have this or that, I will be happy.” (But excessive identification with an ingroup and consequent denigration of an outgroup is also a potentially destructive form of possessiveness.)
Egoism and Egotism. Egoism is being locked into my own perspective and acting for my own benefit at the expense of others. Egotism is believing that I am better than others and expressing this belief in my words and actions, putting others down, belittling them and trying to make them feel small, etc. Egotism often has a compensatory function–at some level I feel inferior or inadequate, and try to make myself feel big by making others seem small. In order to reduce egotism, notes the Dalai Lama, “Buddhist scriptures recommend that you hide your good qualities and achievements like a lamp inside a vessel. You should not advertise them unless there is a great purpose in doing so.” (2002, p. 61).
Spiritual Materialism (Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche’s term) is a particular subtle form of Egotism. A major obstacle in following the path that Buddha outlined, or for that matter, any path of psychological or spiritual development, is to imagine that we are farther ahead than we actually are. The idea that I am “more conscious than thou,” and if you’re lucky, one day you will get it together enough to raise your conscious to as high a level as mine. (characteristically said as a self-rightenous dig in which the person saying or thinking this is ignoring, suppressing, or repressing his or her own shadow side.) Buddha’s principle “Right mindfulness” reminds us to become as aware as we can of what we actually are doing, experiencing, feeling, and what actually is motivating us at this moment, rather than getting stuck in some view of how we think are “supposed to be.” A variation on this is the belief that “my religion is better than yours, and people who believe as I do are good and others are bad.”
Belief that some ceremony, rite, or ritual will improve your life. There is no ceremony analogous to baptism for initiation into Buddhism, or for the “washing away of sins.” The only way to truly become a Buddhist is to follow Buddha’s teachings and put them into practice in your own life.
Reversal of means and ends. “In the frenzy of modern life we lose sight of the real value of humanity,” writes the Dalai Lama. People become the sum total of what they produce. Human beings act like machines whose purposes is to make money. This is absolutely wrong. The purpose of making money is the happiness of humankind, not the other way around. . . . If there is too much attachment to wealth, it does not help at all.” (2002, p.35)
SOURCES OF HAPPINESS, WHOLESOME STATES, OR “THINGS TO BE ENCOURAGED”
The Ten Paramitas
Sylvia Boorstein comments on the Paramitas (pp. 9-12, 35), “I love this list. I love knowing that all of these qualities are the natural, built-in inclinations of the human heart. . . . We are relational. When we aren’t frightened into self-absorption, we look out for each other. We take care of each other. . . . when we act morally, we give the people we meet the gift of safety, and. . . experience what the Buddha called “the bliss of blamelessness.”By practicing Renunciation, we give ourselves the gift of modulated desires and. . . an increased appreciation of what we already have. . . . Patience, in a rushed world, is a shared relief. Witnesses to patient transactions, as well as participants, all get to calm down. . . . Lovingkindness depends on forgiveness. . . . When I am able to forgive myself–which is not always easy–I am kinder to everyone else. . . . It is not possible to cultivate any single Paramita without all the others developing.”
“Generosity can be practiced,” write Goldstein and Kornfield. “With practice, its spirit forms our actions, and our hearts will grow stronger and lighter.” (p. 8) Buddha said, “If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pas without sharing it in some way.”
In regard to morality, the Dalai Lama says, “Refraining from harming others is the essence of the initial stage of living the teachings of morality. . . . Develop a strong desire to refrain from harming others either physically or verbally no matter whether you are embarrassed, insulted, reviled, pushed, or hit. . . . The morality of concern for others–called the morality of Bodhissatvas (beings primarily concerned with helping others) –is mainly practiced by restraining the mind from falling into selfishness. . . . You have the same right to be happy as everyone else, but the difference is that you are one and they are many. To lose the happiness of a single person is important, but not so important as losing the happiness of many other beings. From this perspective, you can cultivate compassion, love, and respect for others. In a sense, all human beings belong to a single family. We need to embrace the oneness of humanity and show concern for everyone–not just my family or my country or mycontinent. ” (2002, p. 28, 71, 80) We should not take what is not ours, not stealing from others, or even from plants or animals.
Regarding renunciation, the Dalai Lama writes, “Notice your attachments to food, clothes, and shelter, and adapt monastic practices of contentment to a layperson’s life. Be satisfied with adequate food, clothing, and shelter. Use the additional free time for meditation so that you can overcome more problems.” (2002, p. 71)
Wisdom includes a recognition that we are all interconnected with other people and all other living beings. It involves an effort to consciously notice cause and effect in our lives, becoming aware of how our words and action affect both us and others.
Of patience, Boorstein writes, “The living of regular, ordinary everyday life-even when it is most simple–requires ongoing attention to diffusing impatience.” (181)
In regard to Truthfulness, the Buddha said, “A wise person, upon acknowledging the truth, becomes like a lake, clear and deep and still. Find friends who love the truth.” The Buddha taught that bare attention, just noticing what’s happening without additional commentary, helps us discover even the truths that we’ve been hiding from ourselves, or embroidering, or embellishing. As you notice how you embellish worries and judgments about yourself, you may begin appreciating positive truths about yourself that you had not allowed yourself to recognize.
Of Determination, Boorstein writes of being “reinspired in my Determination to dismantle the obstacle course of confusion that seems to trip my mind at every turn. . . . I know that when I am paying attention, my mind stays clear and my heart stays open. . . . I am certain that my own good heart is one mind-moment, and one breath away. So I start over. . . . Plan to be starting over, all the time. Each time you find that your mind has gotten stuck in a strugtgle, remember that you know the way out. You’ve found it before. Stop. Take a breath. Dismiss dismay, if you can, as fast as it arises. . . Freedom from habit is a possibility. Not once and for all, as far as I can tell, but day after day, little by little, and more and more often.” (220)
Of Lovingkindness, the Dhammapada says, “Hatred will never cease by hatred. Only love will erase hatred. This is the eternal law.” Boorstein comments, “If I make blessing my habit, if I meet each moment with equal benevolence, my mind relaxes and all of my rehearsed reasons for resenting are redeemed by goodness. . . . Being on good terms with all of my life allows me to feel safe and convinces me that Lovingkindnes must be the universal antidote to suffering, that it must be what everyone wants most. . . . The Lovingkindness sermon. . . assumes that one’s own boundlessly safe and happy heart has no walls with hooks on them which to hand old animosities, no filing systems filled with fear stories that get in the way of forgiving.” Then she goes on to say, “These are the words I am saying these days, so. . . I invite you to try them: ‘May I feel protected and safe. May I feel contented and pleased. May my physical body provide me with strength. May my life unfold smoothly with ease.’ Now say the phrases again. This time, stop after each phrase and take a deep breath in and out.” (223-5)
Boorstein also speaks of “the four categories of persons–dearly beloved people, good friends, neutral people, and enemies–that we use to identify the people we know. . . . ” A friend of hers asked, “‘Do you have any enemies? Anyone that you’ve put out of your heart?'”(169/ Then she goes on to tell a story about someone she had nourished a longstanding grudge against, because he had written her a letter that was very hurtful to her, and how after a number of years she finally discussed it with him and they achieved a reconciliation.”
Boorstein goes on to elaborate about lovingkindness that one way to practice it is to tell good stories about people. Even with people who have great difficulties, or about whom you could find a bad story to tell, look for something good you can say about them, and if an occasion presents itself, do so. She goes on to talk about “writing new endings for old stories”–especially stories that are filled with conflict and antagonism. “All of the great spiritual traditions teach that the ‘enemy’ needs to be befriended, that retaliation is endless. . . . Without erasing, we can sometimes mend a story by writing more at the end of it.” (231-5)
In a remark that in a sense sums up the Paramitas, Saddhatissa writes, “If the root is generosity, compassion, or insight,” says Saddhatissa, “the resultant act constitutes wholesome kamma and will produce correspondingly beneficial effects. If the root is greed, hatred or delusion, unwholesome kammic acts result, leading to undesirable effects.” 46)
THE FIVE PRECEPTS
These are vows taken by Buddhist monks and nuns, framed in such a way that they can apply to anyone. :
- I endeavor to refrain from harming living beings. (This includes speech and action that causes psychological harm as well as those that cause physical harm.)
- I endeavor to refrain from taking what is not given. This “necessitates waiting until things are offered rather than rushing out and grabbing them.” (Saddhatissa 1971, p. 29)
- I endeavor to refrain from misuse of the senses, the body, and bodily sensations. (This is often interpreted as a focus on avoiding sexual misconduct, but it can equally be applied to eating or other actions. It does not require abstaining from food or sex. Rather it means avoiding excessive indulgence of any kind.It includes not acting out of sexual desire, or other forms of desire, in any way that causes harm or suffering to another, or to oneself..
- I endeavor to refrain from wrong speech. (This overlaps with one of the eight items on the Eightfold Path.)
- I endeavor to refrain from taking drugs or drinks that tend to cloud the mind.
TYPES OF MEDITATION
The Dalai Lama uses the terms “analytical meditation” and “stabilizing meditation” for two types of meditation. (I use the terms “contemplative meditation” and “concentrative meditation.”)
In analytical meditation you try to understand a topic through reasoning. For example you might analyze one of the causes of suffering, or one of the items on the Eightfold Path, or one of the Paramitas. Or you might contemplate some habit of your own that causes you difficulty, being careful not to fall into your conditioned usual patterns of thought about it. (2002, p. 118)
In stabilizing meditation you try to achieve calm, clear abiding by fixing your mind on a single focus of attention. This might be something physical like a candle or your beathing, or a mental object such as a visualization or word (yantra or mantra in yogic terminology).
You can also “meditate in the manner of wishing. For example, you might wish to be filled with the compasiosn and wisdom of a Buddha.” The best wishes are not to “get” something, but to develop positive qualities that will enable you to act for your benefit and that of others. Such meditation is related to prayer.
In imaginative meditation you envision that you have certain qualities that you want to develop. You might, for example, imagine Buddha or the Dalai Lama or some other spiritual teacher sitting before you, and envision yourself acting in ways that mirror that person’s qualities. Or you might imagine that spiritual teacher as existing inside you, in the region of your heart, so that you embody his or her qualities.
A morning practice. Examine your motivation as often as you can. Even before getting out of bed in the morning, establish a nonviolent, nonabusive outlook for your day. At night examine what you did during the day. . . Reflect on how you are caught in a pervasive process of conditioning.” (2002, p. 41)
“Up until now.” Whenever you talk about yourself to another, or even think about yourself, make a habit of saying Up until now I . . . .” This can free your mind to think differently about yourself and your possibilites, instead keeping you locked into your old beliefs, attitudes, and mental habits about yourself. You can do the same thing in regard to others. “Up until now you . . . . “
Difficulties can wake us up. All of our difficulties, in a Buddhist perspective–our suffering, our attachments, our impermanence, and so on–can serve to wake us up. Any time we feel like something is not right in our lives, we can direct our attention to noticing what we are doing to create that “not rightness.”
Hard times help you let go of pretenses. “If your life is easy and everything is going smoothly, then you can maintain pretenses. However, when you face rally desperate situations, there is no time to pretend: you have to deal with reality. Hard times build determination and inner strength. (Dalai Lama 2002, p.76)
Facing great difficulty. “On those occasions when you feel most hopeless, you must make a powerful effort. . . . Just a drop of something sweet cannot change a taste that is powerfully bitter. We must persist in the face of failure. . . . When you experience a difficult period, do your best to avoid behavior that will add to your burden later on. . . . Keep this in mind: By greeting trouble with optimism and hope, you are undermining worse troubles down the line. . . . Under no circumstances should you lose hope. Hopelessness is a real cause of failure.” (Dalai Lama 2002, p. 39)
Enemies. “For a practitioner of love and compassion, an enemy is one of the most important teachers,” says the Dalai Lama. “Without an enemy you cannot practice tolerance, and without tolerance you cannot build a sound basis of compassion. So in order to practice compassion, youshould have an enemy.” (2002, p. 75)
A thumbnail summary of Buddha’s teaching:
- Stop acting in harmful ways
- Learn how to act in helpful ways
- Develop clarity of mind
Enlightenment (liberation) can only be attained by working diligently at it. “Work out your liberation with diligence,” said the Buddha.
The above is a purely conceptual summary of some of the principal ideas in Buddha’s teachings. It leaves out all the stories told about his life, how he came to these realizations, the community of followers that developed, and that which gives the concepts historical life. I like Betty Kelen’s Gautama Buddha in Life and Legend (Avon, 1967) as a wonderfully readable rendition of both the myths and apparently true stories about Buddha’s life.
- Bahm, A.J. (1958) Philosophy of the Buddha. New York: Capricorn.
- Boorstein, Sylvia (2002). Pay Attention, For Goodness’ Sake. New York: Ballantine.
- Byles, Marie Beuzeville (1957)Footprints of Gautama the Buddha. Wheaton, Ill: Quest.
- Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso (2000) The Meaning of Life. Boston: Wisdom Publication.
- Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso (2002). How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life. New York: Atria.
- Goldstein, Joseph & Jack Kornfield (1987).Seeking the Path of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation. Boulder & London: Shambhala.
- Kelen, Betty (1967) Gautama Buddha in Life and Legend. New York: Avon.
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