Applying the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism to your Daily Life
Exploring the basic Buddhist tenets
I want to begin by sharing that I'm not trying to convert anybody to Buddhism! I'm not a Buddhist myself, but have found a lot of comfort in the words and studies of Buddha. As an Art Museum Docent, I'm working on an Off site presentation and have chosen to base it on Art related to the Buddha and his teachings. In making this decision, I purchased the Dhammapada, which could be considered a "bible" of sorts for a budding Buddhist to follow.
For a long time I've found myself drawn to the kinder, gentler way of life proposed by the Buddhist lifestyle and have incorporated many practices into my own life. By adding regular meditation and Yoga to my life I've found a much greater peace and sense of balance.
As I read the Dhammapada yesterday the Four basic tenets of Buddhism really struck me as great advice for living one's life in a way that will bring peace and satisfaction and which also honors all living beings.
Read along with me as I take each tenet and share with you ways in which you might benefit by the teachings here in. I respectfully do not wish to convert anybody, but if my own personal growth is any indicator, it could be life changing for you to follow even a portion of these teachings. If nothing else, perhaps you will learn a bit more about the teachings of Buddha and find something of interest. As a wise person once told me "Take what you can use, and leave the rest."
The First Truth-The Fact of Suffering
The teaching here is that we must accept that to be alive is to know change, and change while unavoidable and necessary cannot satisfy our longing or desire for something. To know change, is to know suffering.
All desire happiness; what is good, pleasant and right. Yet all find that life brings frustration and suffering along with the constancy of change. Everything that changes brings suffering.
But all is not lost! We all can agree that change is one of life's few constants, but it is change that often drives misery and despair. Learning how to accept that this is a simple fact of life is the first step to not be trapped in the suffering of change.
Personally I've spent a lifetime avoiding change; railing against changes that I had no control over and generally being miserable whenever life dealt me a hand that forced any kind of major change! In the past few years as I've been learning to quiet my mind in meditation and balance my life with Yoga and gratitude, I've found that change is still difficult, but I am better at dealing with it. One can practice facing change with more grace and acceptance and find themselves liberated from frustration and anger at things they can't do anything about anyway!
While we can never live a life that doesn't experience change, we can learn how to better cope with it and to be more at peace in the face of change.
The Second Truth-It is Not Life that Brings Sorrow, but the Demands we Place on Life
It is said that the cause of suffering is our own selfishness and how we go about satisfying our desires selfishly.
The idea here is that we all are driven to want what we want, but often without thought of anybody or anything but ourselves! It is that selfishness that causes us suffering. The Buddha taught that to suffer for not having what we desire is like the Banana tree suffering for not producing mango's.
Simply stated, it goes back to the basic premise of being content with what one has and not being driven only by selfish desire. If one can be at peace in one's present place or state, they will also find themselves less driven by desires that are external.
I've experienced this firsthand. When one decides to accept their place in life and to behave accordingly, there is much less desire or longing for that which one doesn't have. I've had some life experiences over the past few years that created a loss of personal wealth, personal belongings and at one point, almost the loss of my life! But, it was these very losses that created a climate for me to start exploring life from a different point of view.
I learned about meditation and Yoga and in the process learned how to quiet my mind. In this state, it became and becomes easier to live without all that I may have once wanted and to have peace and contentment with what I have.
I'm not suggesting one rid themselves of all their worldly belongings, but to rather not see those things as the end all/be all of their existence or the reason for their happiness. I've learned that sometimes the simple joy of finding oneself in the Flow of life, or feeling the presence of the divine in a quiet moment to be worth so much more than the newest car, or the best clothing that can be bought.
It is about being a part of the oneness of life and less about one's individual goals or gains.
The Third Truth-Anything that can be Understood can be Cured
This states that if we can identify our suffering and understand it, it can be cured or eradicated. And this mostly refers to curing our suffering, rather than physical disease or distress. The thought here is that our suffering is from being Selfish and desiring beyond what is reasonable.
As we eradicate our selfishness, our suffering is resolved. What a delightful idea! So, being thoughtful of others is a way we can reduce our own suffering!
I've certainly found that by being more thoughtful of other people has a multi pronged function of easing my own misery. First, their is less time to think about my own problems if I'm being more globally concerned for others. Secondly, there is some sort of karmic benefit to being thoughtful of our fellow man that allows us to feel greater peace and much less suffering.
One example I can share is that in my neighborhood I see homeless people with some regularity. On a few occasions when I'm out walking my dog I've found a dollar bill on the street. I always look around to be sure that nobody has dropped it, and if there is nobody around I'll pocket the bill. I make a mental note to myself that the money is "found" therefore I will give it to the first person I meet who is in need. This has resulted in my being able to give money to somebody on the street, or a panhandler at a stoplight. I realize, a single dollar doesn't go very far, but it's the act of selflessness that has the impact on our own life.
As we learn to step out of our own head's and be less fixated on our desires, and what we find lacking, we are better able to find happiness because we've placed that selfish concern into a giving concern for others. It's been really lovely to experience this in my own life, so I want to share it with you here!
One needn't give more than they have, but only what they can. The simplest thought or gesture that is selfless and for another repays you 100 fold!
The Fourth Truth-Selfishness can be Extinguished by Following an Eightfold Path
The Buddha felt that we can eradicate or extinguish our selfishness by following this path. It goes as follows:
The Right Understanding; The Right Purpose; The Right Speech; The Right Conduct; The Right Occupation; The Right Effort; The Right Attention and the Right Meditation.
If dharma is a wheel, these eight are it's spokes. Dharma expresses the central law of life; that all things and events are part of an indivisible whole.
Thus, right understanding is seeing life as it is; in the midst of change it tells us where there is a firm place to stand; to know that happiness does not come from anything outside.
Right purpose follows right understanding; it's willing, desiring and thinking that life is fine as it is.
Right speech, right action and right occupation follow from right purpose; It is living in harmony with the unity of life; speaking kindly, living kindly and living not just for oneself but the benefit of others.
The last three steps deal with the mind; everything depends on the Mind. Our life is shaped by the mind; we become what we think! It is said that Suffering follows an evil thought as the cart follows the oxen; Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.
Right effort is the constant endeavor to train oneself in thought, word and action. Just as a gymnast trains their physical body, those who desire nirvana must train the mind.
The goal for a Buddha and for many of his followers is Nirvana. We don't all have to strive quite so hard to find Nirvana, but perhaps we can come close? By adhering to these selfless principles one can move closer to peace and wellbeing. And, the more peace and wellbeing you create in your life, the less you will suffer. It's really that simple. By letting go of selfish desire and thinking a bit more globally you can achieve more comfort and peace than you might have dreamed possible!
Putting this into Practice
Again, please know that I'm not looking to become a Buddhist or to convert you, my reader, into being a Buddhist. But, I found that by reading the teachings of the Buddha, he echoes much of what is written about Christ's teachings.
Learning how to be more thoughtful of others not only helps them, but ultimately it is about helping YOU! We must love ourselves first, and be compassionate with ourselves and only then can we truly love another and have compassion for them.
I've personally found so much more peace and contentment by letting go of worry and desire and focusing more on the big picture. It costs nothing to think kind thoughts or to practice random acts of kindness for others. But, it may reap you benefits that are beyond measure in monetary terms.
If we become what we think, then let's think good thoughts! Let's practice random acts of kindness and wish peace for all of mankind. If every human being were to do this, imagine the ripple effect? Even if we remain our flawed, selfish selves, the efforts to be kind would not be lost but would manifest in greater good for all!
I hope that this has been interesting to you and that you have found something you might implement in your own life for greater peace and contentment.