Buddhism is a religion, philosophy of life and ethical framework for helping to make good moral decisions. It’s one path to spiritual fulfillment. Born more than 2500 years ago before Christ and Christianity, according to the Pew Research Center, there are about 488 million Buddhists worldwide (that’s about 7% of the world’s total population).
Buddhism has three major sects: Mahayana Buddhism is prevalent in China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam; Theravada Buddhism is common to Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Laos and Cambodia; and Tibetan Buddhism (sometimes called Vajrayana Buddhism) is practiced in Tibet, Nepal, Northern India, Bhutan and Mongolia. Each branch cherishes its own texts, myths, legends, spiritual teachers and rituals bound to the culture that has nourished and sustained it over millennia.
BUDDHISM as a PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE
Tradition suggests that after actualizing his personal enlightenment, Buddha preached his first sermon to five followers who had previously renounced him for detouring from his previous spiritual path of strict self-denial and extreme aestheticism. This first teaching would became the fundamental basis of his message and the core of the oral tradition that would evolve to become Buddhism. With less dogma and more personal sharing of his own experience, he spoke simply of Four Noble Truths.
The First Noble Truth is that life hurts. Living includes suffering (Dukkha). Suffering includes pain, old age, illness, trauma, grief, loss, separation, anxiety, depression, fear, disappointment, fatigue and the basic stress of living… there is an underlying dissatisfaction. From birth to death… we suffer, we are wounded, we scar. Living is damaging. We mature and decay. We suffer from unmet needs. We mourn unrealized desires. This Truth is not so much negative as it’s pragmatic. The truth of suffering is that it exists. Its real and its painful. I suffer.
The Second Noble Truth is that we create our own suffering. Dissatisfaction is caused by the desires, expectations and attachments we perpetuate. We yearn for ourselves instead of the whole. We will always have suffering. Just like kids at Christmas wanting the new toy and then, having received that, will long for yet another, we seek fulfillment of our desire, just to then move on to another. All the time, our lives are only temporarily satisfied. Suffering has a cause. It can can be identified. I can understand why I suffer.
So you don’t start thinking that Buddhism is a negative or fatalistic philosophy… the next two Truths are positive, optimistic and hopeful.
The Third Noble Truth teaches that if we end our attachment to desire, we will end our suffering. Precisely: I can be free of suffering if I change my thinking. Changing my perception and reducing my attachment to desire reduces my suffering. Perception, understanding, moderation and balance are key. I can end my suffering. I have choices. I need to balance/temper my desires.
The Fourth Noble Truth is the path; the road map to the end of suffering. He offers a basic set of guidelines/directions/instructions toward successful living. The key to stopping suffering is to follow a middle way – The Eight-Fold Path. Providing an alternative path to day to day living, he suggests another way that leads to the end of suffering. The path is in the mind… in our perceptions. I can lead myself to enlightenment! The Noble Eight-Fold Path is Right Understanding, Right Intent, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. I now have instruction for living. I can cultivate my own discipline, mindfulness and wisdom. Enlightenment is up to me.
I like to remember that Buddha reached his middle way after living literally from one extreme to another. As a youth and young adult, he was royalty (think: Prince Harry) enjoying tremendous wealth and abundance while well protected/insulated from the caste society surrounding him. He had complete access to every pleasure imaginable for he was a Prince destined to be the King of India. Walking away from that opulence and power, his six year spiritual journey brought him to the complete opposite kind of life literally depriving himself of the bare essentials of food and water culminating in his near death from starvation.
Buddha’s Noble Eight-Fold path suggests a way of choosing that’s neither decadent, hedonistic, over-indulgent nor extremely austere, abstinent or self-denying. I have choices regarding how I want to create my experience. Those choices originate in my mind. I need to train my mind.
The Three Characteristics of Existence as defined by Buddha are suffering, impermanence and the no unique self. Life hurts. Life is constantly in flux. What we think of as our identity… who we really “are”… is a myth. We are constantly changing from moment to moment and from incarnation to incarnation. While Buddha understood life continuing after death, he suggests it more like lighting one candle from another, the flame originates at the first flame, but the second is a consequence of the first, and not a unique reproduction of it. Essentially, we’re are our body, feelings, perceptions, ideas and consciousness… all changeable.
An early Buddhist teaching says: “What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow. Our life is the creation of our mind”.
Karma is the notion of intended action and is a dynamic concept frequently misunderstood. Karma is not fate or predestination. Rather karma is a consequence of what has gone before. In other words, today you are in circumstances because of previous thoughts and decisions…and this is an on-going, dynamic process. Essentially, new thoughts and new actions create new karma. Karma happens in this moment… in the now and it is NOT retribution for previous past life ills. (Think: we reap what we sow).
I honor Buddhist philosophy as one way to live my life.
I’ve grown to believe that by following the Buddhist Eight-Fold Path of right view, intentions, speech, action, livelihood, effort, concentration and mindfulness… what is true for me emerges from within my thoughts, feelings, intuitions and encounters.
If I am sincerely following my own path of righteousness, my ego and judgement get smaller and smaller. Compassion and acceptance of myself and others – those that agree with me and those that disagree with me – gets larger and larger. This is my evolution of personal conscience and consciousness. This is my mindfulness awakening. This is why I meditate/pray. This is why I have chosen to be a minister.
Some family, friends and acquaintances seem to be a bit suspect of my new ministry. I honor their suspicions and accept them under advisement. Frankly, I pray about their concerns. I have not particularly been a fan of organized religion since my Roman Catholic days studying to be a priest in the 1970’s. Religion has been and continues to be a huge part of the cultural, social and political struggles of human history (think: The Crusades, Creationists and ISIS). I get it and I get their concerns. Most of their observations are quite valid. Religion has had a not so good track record and more often than not has been part of the problem… instead of the solution.
I aim to be different and to make a difference. Genuine self-confidence, personal and vocational convictions, inner strength in the face of hate and fear and death – everyday I am called to master who I am and what I strive to become. My ministry: HOPE = Compassion + Forgiveness keeps me centered and also keeps me real.
Daily, I recognize that I am in need of the gifts of diplomacy, patience and discernment. I frequently get into my own way. I am stubborn. I am opinionated.
Yet I am sure, without a doubt, that now is the time for me to have faith in myself in the presence of all that is Sacred to me. I am called.
Almost everyday, current events can easily contribute to my erosion, doubts and wanting to revert back to declaring war against all that is not right with my world view. I pray for the ability to tame my beasts within and respond with compassion and forgiveness. Sarcasm, cynicism and despair is toxic.
Can I deceive yourself? Absolutely. Deception of myself and others, working my own agenda and taking detours from my path – we can create… or we can destroy. The choice and the responsibility is ours.
My best friend died quite unexpectedly 6 weeks ago. Just 2 years older than me with many miles – we all thought – still left on her warranty with hopes that we’d retire together and host a bed and breakfast/retreat/sanctuary in a tranquil place. Trust me: I am reminded daily that every single moment counts. We find the strength when we have to… and it seems, we are always stronger than we think.
If I have the strength to find my bliss and follow it… you do too.
I understand Buddhism to be a philosophy… a way of living… suggestions for transformation toward our ideal self and society.
Buddhism is also a religion for more than 300 million people worldwide. The word is from the Sanskrit ‘budhi’ meaning ‘to awaken’.
Buddhism has its origins 2,500 years ago when a man named Siddhartha Gautama, who would be come known as “the Buddha,” was himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of 35.
Buddha was a teacher. As a young Prince, he had four transformative encounters while venturing out of the comfort zone of his palace. He encountered an old man, a sick man, a dead man and monk/spiritual teacher. He recognized his spiritual hunger and sets off to discover enlightenment.
He teaches Four Noble Truths:
Life is suffering.
We cause our own suffering by ignorance, desire/carving and Karma.
We can end suffering. The extinguishing of all human ignorance and Karma results in a state known as Nirvana.
The Eight-Fold Path can lead to the cessation of suffering.
“The Eight-Fold Path” (also known as The Middle Path or Middle Way), is a guide to understand and practice a path to cease suffering and achieve spiritual enlightenment.
Right view (vision/understanding): accepting the Four Noble Truths are fundamental and true while providing e path toward transformation.
Right thought (intentions/motivations/aspirations/attitudes): living without attachment (letting go) while being kind and compassionate.
Right speech: speaking with clarity and truthfulness while avoiding slander, gossip, lying, untrue, harmful and/or abusive talk.
Right action (conduct): acting without violence (ahimsa) or exploitation; no stealing or sexual impropriety.
Right livelihood (means of making a living): working without slaughtering animals or doing jobs that violate others.
Right mental effort (attitude/diligence): consciously living along a transformative path of creativity and healing towards wholeness while avoiding negative thoughts and emotions, such as anger and jealousy. Think conscious personal evolution.
Right mindfulness: maintaining awareness and clarity of one’s mental, emotional, physical and spiritual reality.
Right concentration (meditation): meditating with single-mindedness to reach the highest level of consciousness/enlightenment. This is known as Buddha-hood.