Posted in buddha

Three Things About Life

The Buddha taught three things  about human life. These are what he discovered in his spiritual journey. They are all connected. They are: suffering, impermanence, and no-self.
Human existence is full of pain and frustration. Careful examination of our situation in life makes this very clear. If we don’t immediately see pervasive suffering in our own lives, we can certainly see it at any moment by turning on the news.
Why do we suffer?
Because all things are impermanent. Most of us live our lives as though things will last forever. A lot of our trouble arises because of our expectation that things will last. No matter how good or bad things are, they’re always going to change. This includes things like our thoughts and emotions, as well as big things like mountains and forests. Accepting this reduces our suffering.
No-self is the one people struggle with sometimes. Meditation is what helps us to detach from our idea that we are fixed beings, separate from the world around us. It’s our sense of self that makes us cling to things and also lash out. Holding onto this small self, what I call the “I-Me-Mine” that brings us a lot of suffering.
Looking at life, the Buddha saw that ignorance of the real nature of things causes people to be trapped in cycles of suffering.
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Posted in buddhism

Analyzing Suffering

There is freedom in seeing our suffering as it really is. We can analyze our experience, seeing how we feel, who we are, and gaining some understanding into our habitual feelings and tendencies. In an analysis of ourselves we can come to understand that the core of our being is basically good and that we have innate wakefulness, or Buddha nature.

There are layers of delusion that keep us from understanding our true nature. These are things like the small self and it’s habitual patterns and the baggage we carry. If we really look into this with insight, we can see that way we see our selves doesn’t really match reality that well.

One of the ways we can do this kind of analysis is by studying the four noble truths: the truth of suffering, the causes of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path of the dharma. The first two truths represent an explanation of the situation we are in. The second two represent how we hope to transcend it.

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Posted in buddhism

The Third Noble Truth: All Things Must Pass

When I think of the Third Noble Truth, I think of that wonderful George Harrison song, “All Things Must Pass”.

That’s really the message of this truth. All things come and go. And this includes our suffering. Our suffering is impermanent. And if we have a rational understanding of our suffering, then we know this. It’s like that trite self help line “This too shall pass”.

Everything we perceive is always coming and going. Enlightenment is really just seeing this nature of things intuitively, seeing our situation as it is. We think of ourselves as individual beings who came into existence and will some day die. The Buddha described human beings as a stream. We came into being, but so many aspects of ourselves are just a continuation of other things. The whole universe is this way. When did you really begin? With your birth? With your conception? With your parents birth?

So, what do we do?

We manage our craving by not feeding it, letting go of our neurotic patterns so we don’t make all our problems worse and make enemies out of everything all the time. Waking up to our true nature of interdependence yields freedom.

 


 

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The Second Noble Truth: Three Forms of Craving

Suffering arises out of craving, wanting, trying to get things or get away from things all the time. Craving often appears in 3 forms:

  1. Desire: This applies to both physical and mental desires. All the things and stimulation that we want.
  2. Existence: This is the our wish to avoid the fact that we will get old and die.
  3. Release from Pain: This is the idea that we want our pain and discomfort to go away.

Almost all of our struggles in life come from these three things. We’re often unaware that these factors are even at play. Because we’re unaware of what’s going on, we are consistently trying to satisfy ourselves by consuming. We tend to think some combination of money, love, and respect will create contentment for us. And even if we’re unaware of it, this problem keeps coming up because we are so confused.

Our purpose here is to become more and more aware of our desires and how they arise and cause us harm.

 


 

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The First Noble Truth: Three Kinds of Suffering

As long as we’re living in delusion, our lives are full of suffering. If we examine our suffering deeply, we can see that in usually comes in three forms. The are usually called: Pain, Change, and Being.

1) Pain: Pain is an inevitable part of life. This isn’t just physical pain, but emotional pain as well. We might reduce or avoid our pain for a while, but we can’t escape it altogether. Mental suffering is what occurs when we don’t get what we want or we’re forced into something that we don’t want. We can’t turn away from pain, really. We can only deal with it by facing it.

2) Change: Every aspects of our lives is subject to change constantly, especially our thoughts. We wish we could stop the changes we don’t like. We sometimes try hard to make things stay the same. When we’re happy we still know that change is inevitable. We are desperate to deny the reality of change and for this reason we suffer. We try to control everything or make enemies out of everything because we’re so worried about change. Just becoming aware of our relationship to the suffering caused by change, we work on it.

3) Being: This is harder to understand. As long as we see ourselves as individuals we see ourselves as coming to an end, while the world goes on without us. We have big things that we don’t understand about the world and our place in it. This is the root of the suffering of being. We essentially suffer from confusion, not really understanding the world and our place in it.

 


 

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About a Buddha

Sometimes we just come to the Buddha’s story over and over, telling it in different ways.

Gautama was the son of a wealthy king and he lived a sheltered life. It’s said that he didn’t even know about suffering and sickness and death, but that’s almost certainly not true. The story is that his father did everything he possibly could to prevent his son from knowing that life is hard. We should all be so lucky. I think even people today that are born into incredible wealth still do know something about suffering. We all get older, we all get sick, we all die.

So, it’s said that one day Gautama discovered that life is full of suffering. A servant explained the whole thing to him and he just couldn’t stop thinking about it. He dwelled on this information in the same way that we can’t stop thinking about how stressful our jobs or ex-wives are sometimes. And he just had to ask himself, “Is life is full of suffering and (in the scheme of things) short, what’s the point?” This question really bothered him and he couldn’t even enjoy his privileged life anymore.

So he just left.

He left behind this life of luxury to go look for answers, to really try to figure out the meaning of life. At this time, in this part of the world, it wasn’t that rare. There were lots of guys wandering around trying to get spiritual insights in those days. Still, he had so much that he decided to give up and that is hard for us to really think about.

He just wandered around in the woods for years. He learned from various spiritual teachers. He learned a lot from them, but he really didn’t see any of the teachings he was getting as helpful. Nothing could make him stop wondering if life was worth living, what the purpose of life is with all this suffering and transient joy.

And one day, while sitting under a tree, he experienced Enlightenment. He had a great insight that revealed to him the origin, cause, and way out of suffering.

We call this the four noble truths and it’s really the foundation of all of Buddhism.

But this is just about the man. More about the teachings another time.

After that day he was called The Buddha. This means the one who is awake. He taught for over forty years. He taught this path to everyone; rich and poor, men and women, virtuous people and also criminals. His teaching about the cause and liberation from human suffering was and remains something that can be of benefit to anyone. It is open and helpful to anyone who tries it for themselves.

After the Buddha became a spiritual teacher, people asked many questions. One day a man approached him and had this exchange:

“Are you a god?”
“No.”

“Are you a wizard?”

“No.”

“Are you an angel or spirit?”

“No.”
“What are you?”

“I am awake.”

 

I can’t even imagine walking up to someone, no matter how special they appear to be, and saying, “Are you an angel or spirit?” That seems very strange. But this is how the story is told.

The Buddha never called himself anything other than an ordinary human  being, like us. He didn’t claim to be a god or inspired by a god. He didn’t claim to have super powers. He said that everything he achieved was due to normal human capabilities and efforts.

The Buddha isn’t something we pray to or worship. He was just a person who became awake. That is all.

 


 

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Posted in buddhism

Something is Wrong Here

We can sense a lack in our lives. We can sense it intuitively. Something is wrong. We often don’t know what’s going on, but we tend to feel like something is missing. We suffer, we experience pain and loss. Everything we need to handle what’s going on is right here, we just often fail to realize it. This state of things is the first noble truth. The pain we cause ourselves and others comes from within, form our own delusion and neuroses. And if we can’t see the problems, we often tend to just make it worse. The Buddha saw what was going on. He saw that the cause of our suffering and the way out are within us. This isn’t really about expecting our lives to be perfect as much as just paying attention to our problems and seeing where they come from. If we can do that, then we can see how we are able to relate to the world around us in a different way.

We often tend to think we have to deal with our problems by making them  disappear. But the truth is our problems will always, in some form or another, exist. We want to make ourselves happy by rearranging our circumstances, by turning reality into something other than what it is.

This is the nature of human life. We struggle, we suffer, we grow old, we die. The nature of our lives involves being unsatisfied. This is the first noble truth, the nature of human life.

Buddhism is about being honest about ourselves and the world we live in, so we are dedicated to facing the world as it really is, instead of developing elaborate fantasies to try to hide from the truth. We have to recognize that our suffering is rooted in ourselves, it comes from within. It comes out of our delusion, our failure to see things as they really are. We, instead, see reality as something we can manipulate and control. But we can’t control everything all the time. Our incessant wish for things to be different than they are, our longing, needing, craving, is what causes us to be unhappy.

There’s a fake Shakespeare (Fakespeare?) quote: “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” I think that applies.

The first noble truth is that life is full of suffering, it’s inherently unsatisfying.

The second noble truth is that this suffering comes from within us. It’s caused by our own clinging and craving.

The third noble truth is that we have the ability to understanding the origin our suffering and also to overcome it.

The fourth noble truth is the path, the tools that we are using to overcome our suffering.

This is the basis of Buddhism.

 


 

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This Precious Human Life

This is something we talk about in Buddhism sometimes. “This Precious Human Life.” We dwell in a vast ocean of suffering. The fires of greed, hatred, and delusion assail us throughout our lives. But when teachers talk about This Precious Human Life they’re saying that we are lucky to be here, that our presence in this world of suffering and delusion is a good thing, that we should be thankful.

It seems counterintuitive at first. One of the first things I ever wrote for the internet was an article about the Four Noble Truths. In that article I went on and on and on about the First Noble Truth, that Life is Suffering. I had evidence, examples, quotes, and charts. I really proved that Life is Suffering. But then when it came time to explain the way out of suffering I was spent. I had very little to say. I had difficulty putting any sense of positivity and hope in the Buddhist path and as a result my article was rejected and I was sort of insulted. I almost gave up writing.

(I did a rewrite and got it published almost a year later. I don’t have a copy of the rejected version, but here’s the one that got published: The Revolutionary Nature of the Four Noble Truths)

I had trouble because I wasn’t thinking in terms of This Precious Human Life. Yes, our lives are full of suffering and pain. But this human life is precious. We are lucky to be here because we have the Dharma. We are all fortunate to have been born into a time and place in which we can study and practice. People who are into teachings on rebirth will tell you that a human birth is very rare and it’s only in the human realm that enlightenment is possible. I’ll say something simpler than that and just say that we are lucky to be born in a time and place where Buddhist teachings are available and easy to find. Thousands of teachings are available to us now and for most of history they were not quite so accessible. We are lucky to live in this time. We are lucky that the path out of suffering is available.

Sometimes I wake up and I’m sad. My life hasn’t really gone the way I wanted it to and it’s not really going the way I want it to now. I suffer a lot and I think we all suffer. I can just be sad, sometimes that is what I do. I can also reflect on This Precious Human Life. That helps, knowing I’m lucky to be here now.

You should try it too.

 

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Lotus

The Lotus flower is a beautiful plant. It lives in the water. It often comes out of water that’s muddy and unclean. But with great beauty, it blooms.

This is a common symbol in Buddhism. You can see it all over the place in Buddhist art. It’s really common for images of Bodhisattvas to be seen sitting on giant lotus flowers, and maybe holding small ones too.

One of the most well known mantras “OM MANI PADME HUM” means “the jewel in the lotus.” Chanting this mantra is declaring our own intent to attain Enlightenment.

Different colored lotus flowers are said to have different meanings in Buddhist symbolism. The blue lotus represents Prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom. The gold lotus represents the spiritual Enlightenment of all awakened beings. The pink lotus represents the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. The red lotus represents Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion and it’s said to represent our pure true nature. The white lotus represent purity, a state in which we aren’t afflicted by the three poisons: greed, hatred, and delusion. The purple lotus represents the mystical path.

There’s an additional layer of meaning. A lotus that is fully open represents full and complete Enlightenment. A lotus that’s closed represents the earliest stages on the path.

The lotus is significant because it’s beautiful and pure. But it came out of muddy water. Out of impurity comes purity.

We are the same. We come out of our messy human lives. We exist in a great deal of suffering, like the muddy water. Many of us have had horrendous circumstances in our lives. People we care about die. We struggle in daily life. And most of us have made decisions that are absolutely awful. (I know I have). We are mired in delusion and this is like the muddy water.

But, like the lotus, we can rise above it.

When we rise above the suffering of our lives, when we let go of the attachments that don’t serve us well, when we overcome the preconceptions that are harmful to our well being, we are rising out of the water. When we purify our minds, we are rising from the muddy water, beautiful and pure. And as we travel on the spiritual journey, our lotus blooms.

This is our spiritual journey. To come out of this delusion and bloom as pure and Enlightened beings is the essence of the Bodhisattva’s journey. We exist in the muddy water of suffering, but we are rising above the suffering in transforming ourselves. The lotus reminds us that even in the worst, most stained and deluded circumstances we can rise above things. We can transform ourselves.

But the truth is the lotus was pure the whole time, even before it bloomed, even before it rose above the water. It’s nature didn’t change. It’s purity simply emerged. We are the same way. Our Buddha nature is our true nature. Our Enlightenment is right here right now. We just have to emerge and bloom.

 

Lotus

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Buddhists Can Be Broken

 It happens once in a while to me.

I wonder if it happens to everyone who makes it well known that they’re Buddhist. If I get anxious or upset, if I struggle or indulge in some way, sometimes people will say, “Aren’t you Buddhist?” or “That’s not very Buddhist of you.”

Usually it’s anxiety or a tendency to get overwhelmed. Those are my things. I’m a mess.

When I was going through my divorce I had to start taking sleeping pills because I was so stressed out and worried that I couldn’t sleep at night. And by that I mean prescription sleeping pills; I had to see a doctor. Gasp! A Buddhist taking sleeping pills?!

Sometimes people put big expectations on us when they find out we’re Buddhist. Not often though, most people don’t really know anything about Buddhism. But some people know just enough to misunderstand. I’m not perfect because I’m a Buddhist. I’m not sure why anyone would expect that.

We don’t see this in other religions. I haven’t heard anyone say, “You’re a Christian and you’re trying to get rich?!” Gasp!

The truth is that Buddhism attracts people who are, in some way or another, broken. The Buddha described his teaching as the cause of suffering and the way out of suffering. That’s called the first turning of the wheel. That’s why the Buddha sat and meditated under the Bodhi tree in the first place. He saw all of the suffering in the world and he decided to seek a way out. That is the spiritual journey.

So, Buddhism is attractive to people who are needy, sensitive, and anxious like me. It also attracts the depressed and addicted, the sad and the downtrodden.

Buddhism is attractive to people who have seen firsthand what the First Noble Truth is—that life is suffering.

In the 1200s Dogen was inspired to undertake the spiritual journey after the tragic deaths of his parents, and just like him, I also was inspired after the tragic deaths of mine. This is not to say that all Buddhists fit this description.

There are many things that cause people to enter the path, suffering is only one of them. But I think this is an important thing to be aware of.

The lotus flower is a well known symbol in Buddhism. It’s a symbol for Enlightenment. It rises out of muddy water and blooms, becoming clean and beautiful. The mud is our delusion and suffering and blooming is the way we rise above.

Without the mud underneath, the flower couldn’t bloom. If we didn’t understand our suffering and delusion, then Enlightenment might be out of our reach.

It took me a long time to realize that I am the lotus.