Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Open Your Mind (Final Report Installment 1)
Unlike the majority of the population, I consider myself unaffiliated with religion. I cannot fathom the explanation that everything is created and controlled by some unknown divine being whom, even upon multiple open-minded attempts, I have never managed to communicate or connect with. I have recently discovered, however, a religion that I can identify comfortably with. It is a religion followed by roughly 400 million people in the world, and it's doctrines center around finding wisdom and understanding through the awareness of reality, rather than worshiping a god. This religion is Buddhism and to most followers, its principles offer more than a religious mindset, for they teach habitual morality and tolerance as a way of life.
Buddhists do worship a being, but a human being, not a holy one. This human, Siddhartha Gautama, was born into a royal family in (Present day Nepal) in 567 BC. When he was born, he was given a prophecy that he would become either a great military conqueror or a wise spiritual teacher. His father wanted military excellence for the son, so he isolated Prince Siddhartha in their palace, using the extravagance of the royal life to shield him from the outside world and keep him on path for his chosen destiny. He lived a life of luxury for almost thirty years before straying from the palace and witnessing the horrors of reality: sickness, death, aging, and all forms of suffering. But he also witnessed an ascetic who appeared happy and satisfied regardless of his misery. Siddhartha realized that wealth and prosperity did not guarantee contentment. He became an ascetic himself and after a long period of contemplation and meditation, he became enlightened by the wisdom of the middle path. Renamed Buddha, which means "awakened," he worked to share his insights with others by teaching them the way to enlightenment, and this is the reason he is praised in countless Buddhist temples and homes each day. It is not an act of worship per se, but rather an act of appreciation – an expression of thanks for his treasured guidance.
So, where exactly does Buddha's guidance lead us and why is it beneficial to follow it? Like most religions, Buddhism must show us why it is in our own self interest to follow its teachings. Most religions establish a heaven for us to strive for, a transcendent place of eternal perfection in which we must spend our lives earning a place in. Nirvana is a state similar to heaven, but is achieved during one's lifetime rather than after death. It takes a long time to achieve Nirvana for most who practice Buddhism, but once it is achieved, one can be considered a master of life who has managed to abolish desires and suffering from their psyche. Those who have yet to be enlightened by the four noble truths and achieved a state of Nirvana tend to crave and cling to impermanent emotions and material things. This human flaw is referred to as dukkha, meaning "incapable of satisfying," and is the root cause of all our suffering. If we fail to relieve ourselves from our unquenchable selfish desires and undue ignorance, we face karma which keeps us trapped in an endless cycle of a rebirth, called samsara, that renews our dissatisfaction each time we fail to obtain the enlightenment of Nirvana in our lifetime.
This particular part is one I fail to identify closely with simply because reincarnation is a concept that's hard to understand in scientific terms and I am a very scientific person. I fully believe that we can discover an awareness of ourselves and our reality that puts us at peace and frees us from the suffering we endure, but I don't believe that if we fail to do so, we will be doomed as miserable vermin in our next lives. The belief in samsara is an important part of Buddhist religion, but is not required to understand the philosophies Buddhism establishes, so I will speak no further on it. I will, however, describe the foundation of Buddhism and why it is beneficial to develop the balanced attitude that its teachings encourage.
The most widely recognized and essential doctrines of Buddhist teaching are the four noble truths that Buddha discovered in his quest to enlightenment. These truths are the foundation of Buddhist philosophy and are essential to reaching the level of morality and wisdom that Buddha's hundreds of millions of followers seek.
The first noble truth that we must realize on our journey to enlightenment is the truth of dukkha (or suffering). In order to begin our path to Nirvana, we must understand that suffering is an inevitable part of life and to expect a life without suffering is unreasonable. This can come across as a pessimistic view of life at first, but by truly understanding and embracing the first noble truth, we can find clarity in the veracity of suffering. Buddha brings dukkha to our attention because of the danger of overlooking or denying this fundamental truth. Becoming aware of it allows for a sense of peace and comfort, even in times of dissatisfaction, because it reminds us that suffering is a natural element of life. I think this truth is difficult but important to face. Often times, we fail to see how the pain we endure is a necessary source of growth because during the process of suffering, we feel that our progress toward happiness is being inhibited by the pain of our immediate circumstances. Realizing that some extent of misfortune is inevitable can guide us to a better appreciation of our times at peace.
Another vital truth we must embrace before achieving Nirvana is the truth of , or the cause of dukkha. This truth centers around the understanding that most of the suffering we endure comes from our own internal dilemmas. Our cravings, aversions and ignorance account for the pain we feel and by harnessing our emotions and attitudes, we can minimize our own suffering. Of course, not all of our misfortune is self-inflicted by our own convoluted mental state, but much of our dissatisfaction with external situations arises from the expectations we developed not being met. This is particularly prominent in the material world we live in today. No matter how much we have, we never seem to be fully content. There is always something standing in the way of ourselves and "true happiness," whether it be graduating, getting married, travelling; we always feel like we need just one more thing to guarantee our happiness, but obtaining that thing results in temporary satisfaction followed by the formation of new cravings to long for. By dissecting our problems and analyzing their true cause – the very core of what makes them distressful to us – we can begin to see how the solution to our suffering lies in ourselves.
The third noble truth is the truth of , or the cessation of dukkha. It requires us to open our minds to endless outcomes and realize the impermanence of all things. Realizing that personal expectations and cravings don't always align with the facts of reality is essential to understanding our suffering, and letting go of those cravings allows for the cessation of dissatisfaction. This part is much easier said than done, but it is what brings us to the doorsteps of Nirvana.
Although the first three noble truths have told us what we must do to obtain a state of enlightenment, the fourth noble truth, , uses the eightfold path to tell us how to go about doing this. The eightfold path exists as a model of how to practice a Buddhist lifestyle. It tells us to practice wisdom by having the right view and the right intentions; practice morality by having the right speech, right action, and right livelihood; and practice meditation by having the right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Unlike most religions, Buddhism is not based on faith. Simply believing what Buddha tells us will not get us any closer to the state of self control and inner peace that we strive to obtain. Buddha is our teacher, and in order to be good student, we must apply our knowledge by practicing the eightfold path habitually. Knowing the way to enlightenment is not enough if you do not use your own life to test its veracity, just as knowing the route to a huge pot of gold doesn't make you richer unless you actually follow the route and go get it.
Though I am still far from Nirvana, I have learned a lot about myself and how much more control I have over my feelings and circumstances than I ever thought before. The doctrines of Buddhism remind me much of how Plato views desires according to Goldstein: he acknowledges how the desire for pleasure often ends up defeating its own aim, much like the chasing of a feather makes it ever harder to obtain. Though eastern and western philosophy differ in many ways, I thought it was interesting that both philosophies brought the same perception to light, further validating its truth.
Hopefully learning a bit about this foreign religion will prompt you, as it did for me, to rethink the root of your suffering and explore ways to diminish life's dissatisfactions by practicing a more open-minded, less demanding approach to life.
In case you care to learn a little more about this peaceful religion, I have included some things below that I have found helpful and intriguing during my search for enlightenment about Buddhism:
"Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."
"If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good."
"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."
By Mikaela (H2)