After two hours of brilliance mixed with confusion we carefully hide our perplexed faces from our beautiful teacher Gen Kelsang Suma and climb the stairs of our quiet Buddhist centre. Momentarily having forgotten the existence of the world outside, we step into the daylight with swirling minds. This is just one of the 1,100 Kadampa Buddhist centre’s around the world that is accessible for anyone to learn teachings on Modern Buddhism to bring ancient principles into our everyday lives. http://kadampa.org/centers/
Every week my good friend Laura and I discuss the teachings on the walk to our cars in the McDonald’s parking lot (oh the irony). Often times we lumber, silent and solemn. Feeling as if the carpet has just been whisked from under us; leaving us naked, disrobed and stripped of everything we have always believed in. While other days we are giddy with inspiration, talking a mile a minute, discussing our plans and intentions. One particular rainy evening as we crossed Dunlop street discussing the meaning of life a ragged lady interrupted our conversation and asked, “So, what is the meaning of life?” taken aback we both looked at each other; bewildered, and answered; we don’t have a clue.
Absent discrimination it goes to say I think most of us dabble in philosophical pondering’s about the ‘meaning of life’, everyone from top executive’s to the local street pan handler. My intention in writing about Buddhist concepts is firstly to share these great ideas but secondly to help my spiritual journey progress by trying to verbalize, remind, argue, defeat, rationalize and make sense of these concepts in the hope of developing greater wisdom.
After a couples years of dabbling in Buddhism I thought I knew a lot, we’ve discussed karma, wisdom, compassion and even emptiness, but last week in a mind-blowing lecture on tantra, I realized I knew nothing at all. Trying to explain and understand some of the concepts of Buddhism is like trying to remember and retell a dream, just when you think you can verbalize or comprehend it, it slips away. Due to my concrete sequential learning style I first want to remind myself of Buddhism 101. For me it begins with the 4 Noble Truths; this sets the whole stage for all of the teachings.
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
- All things are subject to change, to live is to suffer.
- Suffering is a condition of the mind, recognize the origin of suffering is attachment.
- Suffering begins and ends in the mind, the end of suffering is attainable.
- The path to end our suffering.
Read on for the Coles notes summary of these concepts…………………………….
The First Noble Truth: In order to live you must suffer.
All things are subject to change, birth, age and death. That’s right folks, we are going to get wrinkled and old, no matter how much Oil of Olay we use. We likely argue that duh, clearly we know this already and intellectually maybe we do, but we don’t believe it, if we did we wouldn’t spend billions on the beauty industry.
We can expect physical and mental suffering, we will get tired, sick, lonely, jealous, disappointed and scared. And no matter how much organic food we eat, yes, everyone we know, including ourselves are going to die. We are going to suffer, period. In the same context we can also expect happiness, contentment and comfort but because our world is impermanent and change is constant we can never truly keep the happiness that we strive for, just as moments of suffering will also pass.
The Second Noble Truth: Suffering is caused by our attachment to transient things and our ignorance thereof.
Ignorance is a lack of understanding how our mind is attached to impermanent items. We crave and cling; we crave desire, passion, wealth, prestige, fame and popularity. Not all cravings are bad, we also crave things deemed to be positive, we might want to become a nurse or an animal activist. The problem is the craving itself, not the thing craved. In other words we don’t have to give up everything we love, instead Buddhism is urging us to look deeper into how we relate to the things we crave and are attached to.
“I really need the new iPhone 5, if I don’t have it right now I will be miserable.” Once I get my phone am I happy? It doesn’t last long before I lose interest and want something else. Because the objects of our attachment are impermanent, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Attachment is an in-depth subject for which entire books could be written on, but to take it one step forward in a brief summary, we also see the object of clinging as separate from the self, which Buddha taught is an illusion. This illusion is self-centered and ultimately leads to insatiable cravings. As long as we perceive ourselves to be separate from everything else, craving will continue.
The Third Noble Truth: We can overcome suffering, happiness can be attained.
There is hope! This is perhaps the most important of the four noble truths, the Buddha reassures us that this is possible. The end of suffering can be attained by detachment (dispassion). This will then extinguish all forms of clinging and craving. (Nirodha). This means that suffering can be overcome by removing the cause of suffering. This is a process of many levels, and takes a lot of time and mental conditioning, the ultimate result is Nirvana (meaning freedom from all worries, troubles, complexities, fabrications and ideas).
It sounds cliché but when we lose the constant cravings and learn to live each day in the moment, enjoying, without wanting more, this leads to true happiness. This makes perfect sense to me, enough sense that I want to try to not just understand this concept intellectually but to actually experience it. Nirvana is not comprehensible for me or anyone else who has not yet attained it.
The Fourth Noble Truth: All this sounds lovely, but how do I get there? The fourth noble truth is the path leading to the overcoming of suffering.
It is a gradual path of self-improvement, which is called the Eightfold Path. It consists of the perfect understandings of thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration. Being Buddhist consists of practicing these eight things until they become refined.
The Eightfold Path covers every aspect of life; the intellectual, ethical, social, economic and psychological and therefore contains everything to lead a good life and develop spiritually. I should mention this is not a path you can complete in a week long course, the path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes.
Ok sounds easy right? Whew! And what exactly is the point of doing all this?
In one word its karma.
Karma means cause and effect. Buddhists believe that we are in control of our fate and that the effects of karma can span more than one lifetime. Rebirth is an important concept in Buddhism, so the purpose of training in mindfulness is to take control of our future in this life and the next.
In short our delusions such as anger, jealousy, pride and attachment generate negative karma and our good natures such as compassion, love and kindness generates positive karma, these ripen the seeds of karmic effects which follow us through many lifetimes.
“Dear Karma, I really hate you right now, you made your point” – Ottilie Weber, Family Ties
So this is the why, intellectually it sounds easy enough, right? The how is the gritty hard part, meditation, learning, practising and letting go. The how is the realization of concepts such as “the opposite of meeting is parting,” accepting that everyone we know, children, parents and friends we must one day leave. The how is the realization that taking a dream vacation is just transferring suffering. The how is hard, but also liberating and indescribable when you experience glimpses of the peace it brings.
Now that we know Buddhism 101, my goal over the next few months is to share and discuss my thoughts, experiences, revelations, difficulties and joy on my journey into a Buddhist world.