Weekly Buddhism – Week 1

I think that I am going to try and write an article on a specific portion of Buddhism each week. This will help me learn more, as I am forced to explore the philosophy more and more.

So, let’s start at the beginning.

The Four Noble Truths

When the Buddha became enlightened, the first talk that he gave was about the Four Noble Truths. They are:

1. Dukkha: There is suffering. Suffering is an intrinsic part of life also experienced as dissatisfaction, discontent, unhappiness, impermanence.
2. Samudaya: There is a cause of suffering, which is attachment and desire (tanha).
3. Nirodha: There is a way out of suffering, which is to eliminate attachment and desire.
4. Magga: The path that leads out of suffering is called the Noble Eightfold Path.

Dukkha sums up our experience. We have all been unhappy, suffered, been depressed. This is called life. We have had our hearts broken, been passed up for a promotion. It is summed up nicely in the cliche:

Life sucks and then you die

“And what have I taught? ‘This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress’: This is what I have taught. And why have I taught these things? Because they are connected with the goal, relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. This is why I have taught them.

“Therefore your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress.’ Your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.'”

Buddha

Realizing that suffering exists is the first step in obtaining happiness. Understanding it is the first step towards real compassion. When we see and understand that Suffering is the common human bond, we can start to feel real compassion. It’s sad, but I think that unhappiness is the primary motivator for most people out there. Their actions are trying to fill a void.

When we are driving, and some one cuts us off – how do we react? Usually we get angry. We say some not to nice things about that person. Compassion is when you try and understand that that person is simply attempting to escape from or mitigate his suffering. Perhaps they are late, and are concerned that they will be in trouble? Perhaps they simply do not care about others, and are only thinking of themselves.

‘Hey Jake,” I say calling my newest waiter over,” check this shit out.”

After I relate the story Jake smiles and says, ‘When I wake up in the morning you know what I sometimes say to myself?”

‘What?” I reply.

‘I’m gonna win today,” he says.

Jake’s words hit me like a thunderbolt. Suddenly I understand why I mixed it up with the guy at the bank.

‘Sometimes you feel like you have to come out on top,” I say.

‘Exactly.”

‘Which, more often than not, is an illusion.”

‘We’re just wired that way I guess,” Jake says walking away.

I’m gonna win today. That’s how I felt in the bank. That’s how I felt on the highway and in Starbucks. Not a healthy sense of competition or ambition, just a grubby graspy feeling of ‘I want what I want when I want it.” That attitude is more appropriate for those infants squealing in their Baby Hummers than a grown man.

Waiterrant

We are wired to want to win in every interaction with each other. Part of compassion is putting that visceral winning need aside for a time, and trying to understand the other person. The first step along the path is to look deep with in, and comprehend our suffering. To see that all humans have and will suffer. Black, white, brown or purple, humans are an unhappy species.

Once we have that connection with others, it’s easer to see that they are people just like us. People who worry about taxes, work, their love life. People who are not faceless enemies. People who love, laugh, and enjoy time with their children. People who hurt when their parents die. People who are saddened by the senseless death of their friends.

The Pali word, dukkha, means “incapable of satisfying” or “not able to bear or withstand anything”: always changing, incapable of truly fulfilling us or making us happy. The sensual world is like that, a vibration in nature. It would, in fact, be terrible if we did find satisfaction in the sensory world because then we wouldn’t search beyond it; we’d just be bound to it. However, as we awaken to this dukkha, we begin to find the way out so that we are no longer constantly trapped in sensory consciousness.

Buddhanet

So many people try to find satisfaction in the sensory world. They use drugs, sex, emotion as a salve for their Dukkha not even knowing that they cannot fill that hole. A pastor of mind used to say that the need for God was a hole that we could not fill. We would try, but the only thing that could fill it was God. I think that knowing about that hole, seeing that hole, and seeing that hole in others is the first step on a long path.

I have brought up this theory that suffering is universal before, and folks seem to think that it’s pessimistic. I disagree. Its like a disease. If we do not know that we are sick, then how can we fix it? People are like that. They suffer, and they do not even really realize it. They do not know that there is a better way out there. Buddhism is all about curing Dukkha. It’s not easy, but I think that even a fractional decrease in our collective suffering will be a great thing.

Homework for the week (Ha! and you thought that you would get off easy?) Meditate on suffering. If you do not meditate, then just think about the suffering in the world. Do not get yourself into a funk! If you start to find yourself focusing your entire week on misery, then get out side, play a game, be with friends. When you start to feel unpleasant thoughts, find their root. Understand them.

When interacting with people, try and look at them with the compassion that understanding the commonality of suffering allows. Try and imagine yourself consoling them. Feel and emote love towards them.

Read the first Truth at Buddhanet

Tune in next week for the Second Noble Truth…

14 thoughts on “Weekly Buddhism – Week 1”

  1. Always the man who teaches the other man how to fish, and doesn’t just give him one, of course. I just make sure I don’t eat more fish than I need! ;)

    Amorphisms aren’t so bad. They can help us be better people, if we choose to follow a good message and not just spout it like so much media hype. I’m not worried about an appearance of nobility, I just want a better world for my kids and other future generations, that’s all. Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant…it matters not. Content of character, and Dr. King would say.

  2. We can trade aphorisms all day long: "John 8:32 – And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

    There are even better ones from Greek Philosophy. "When the mind’s eye rests on objects illuminated by truth and reality, it understands and comprehends them, and functions intelligently; but when it turns to the twilight world of change and decay, it can only form opinions, its vision is confused and its beliefs shifting, and it seems to lack intelligence. (Plato, 380BC)"

    My biggest issue with Buddhists are not people like you who seem to have a genuine desire to understand that philosophy, but people who turn to Buddhism as the flavor of the week because it is exotic and eastern. I am sure you know the type (and I have equal scorn for those who dip lightly into Christianity or Wiccan beliefs and think they are now enlightened.)

    All these philosophies are complex, they are surprisingly similar and it takes more than a quick perusal to understand them. I don’t claim to have a full understanding of any of them, but perhaps enough knowledge to know how little I know.

    obidavekenobi,

    There is a certain nobility to that viewpoint, but their is another side as well.

    It is selfishness and laziness that spawns a lot of development and creativity. Wanting more often leads to the creation of more that is a greater benefit to mankind than any ammount of personal altruism.

    Which is better for mankind, a man who gives everything he has to the poor or a man who invents a new power source? Or even the evil capitalist who finances that power source?

    Giving to others and sharing is good. Wanting more is good too.

  3. Let me respond to the comment a few bars back…when I speak of "desiring less" I speak of personal denial, not deciding that we shouldn’t do something about suffering. I’m talking about "Live simply so that others may simply live." Picking a hybrid instead of a gas-guzzler. Not wasting food. Not wasting natural resources. This is what I’m talking about. Can you imagine our world as a place where people put others ahead of themselves ALL the time? I think that’s the goal I personally aim for. I often fall short, but I also sometimes get it right. What if we ALL got it right?

  4. I enjoy the comments as well. Debate and Discussion help me – by making me think through my positions.

    "<em>I don’t know how many of those idea need to be injected into western philosophy/theology, for the most part they are already there, and I actually have found more sophistication in the Western philosophical stains than in the Eastern ones.</em>"

    I think that the Buddhist Psychology is more accessible to then many of it’s Western counterparts. I also think that it gains a lot from having been under development for so many more years then anything out of the west. Some times complexity is not the same as sophistication. Simple, direct statement that cut to the core of the issue are more valubile to me then lofty, wordy essays.

    For example;

    "We cannot speak Truth – we can only speak words about Truth"

    This statement quickly shows us the major problem with language. Language is words, which are defined by agreement. What happens when you try and communicate with some one who has a diffrent understanding of a word?

    "<em>Why do people climb Mt. Everest? Because it is there. If the highest Mountain in the world was 2 feet tall, after a gentle incline, no one would have to suffer to climb it. And no one would bother and no one would care. I like the fact that Everest is high. I like the fact that mountains require suffering to climb, it gives the attempt meaning.</em>"

    However – if you were going to climb a mountain – would you not want to be equipped with the best tools to be had?

    It’s the same with life – Suffering happens. It’s sad that death, pain and sickness are part of this world, but they are. So, I am going to equip my self with the best tools that I can find to deal with that suffering in a positive manners as possible. That will make me more happy. Happyness is good.

    :)

  5. Of course I don’t enjoy suffering, but I celebrate the fact that suffering exists. They are not the same thing.

    Why do people climb Mt. Everest? Because it is there. If the highest Mountain in the world was 2 feet tall, after a gentle incline, no one would have to suffer to climb it. And no one would bother and no one would care. I like the fact that Everest is high. I like the fact that mountains require suffering to climb, it gives the attempt meaning.

    I don’t have any bitch with the fact that suffering exists. I certainly agree that it does. I also don’t have a huge problem with Buddhism. I have studied it some, although admittedly at a rudimentary level and I think it does contain a lot of good ideas.

    I don’t know how many of those idea need to be injected into western philosophy/theology, for the most part they are already there, and I actually have found more sophistication in the Western philosophical stains than in the Eastern ones.

    Now, obviously very little of that deeper philosophy enters most people’s daily lives. Most people go through the motions with their Religion and spend little time on the philosophy (or even the practice) of their Religion. I expect that is true of Buddhist nations as well (the <a href="http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/bstatt10.htm&quot; rel="nofollow">countries with the highest proportions of Buddhists</a> certainly don’t seem to be poster children for how to end suffering.

    Still, I am glad you are posting this stuff. I hope you don’t take anything I write as a personal attack or a disparagement of your beliefs. I enjoy the back and forth of this sort of discussion.

  6. So, you enjoy suffering? That is strange to me. Most folks do not enjoy suffering. It’s unpleasant. It’s painful.

    Finding a way to mitigate suffering – to help yourself and others deal with it in a constructive manner still seems like a laudable goal to me.

    To simply acknowledge that suffering exists, and then to attempt to look for ways to reduce it in the world seems like those "very smart, very brave and very dedicated people" that said "this sucks, lets fix it."

    The first Truth is nothing more then acknowledging that suffering exists and is universal. That means that I suffer – you suffer – everyone suffers.

    As to the other philosophies and religions that make the claims of Buddhism – many do, This is true. And many work for their adherents. However, from my personal experience – the dominant religion of the West, in it’s current incarnation, does not fill the need for a philosophy based on good psychology that promotes peace, Harmony and personal satisfaction.

    One of the reasons that I explore Buddhism is to attempt to bring some of the psychology back into the Western Memespace. By studying it from a Westerner’s perspective, I hope to release positive meme’s into the wild which will help overcome some of the negativity that exists at this juncture.

  7. <i>I think that the diffrence between Buddhism and most of the other philosphys out there is that Buddhism has a long track record of very scientific research into cures for suffering. They can prove that if you do X that Y will follow. If you follow the Eightfold path, you will be happier.</i>

    Buddhism claims that. So do many other Religions and Philosophies.

    I have nothing against Buddhism, and if it works for you great.

    I like the world though. I like everything about it, even the suffering and I don’t think we need a ‘way out.’

  8. "<em>And it didn’t change because people said ‘oh woe is me, we are meant to suffer’ it changed because some very smart, very brave and very dedicated people said ‘this sucks, lets fix it.'</em>"

    That is the crux of Buddhism. If you read ahead, the fourth Noble Truth is

    <em>The path that leads out of suffering is called the Noble Eightfold Path.</em>

    The Eightfold Path does not include a ‘oh woe is me’ section. It is about movement out of suffering into love and joy.

    A understanding of the problem is essential to solving it, however. If you are sick, and you do not take the time to realise that you are sick, then how can you even start to fix that sickness?

    I think that the diffrence between Buddhism and most of the other philosphys out there is that Buddhism has a long track record of very scientific research into cures for suffering. They can prove that if you do X that Y will follow. If you follow the Eightfold path, you <strong>will</strong> be happier.

    If you feel compassion for others suffering, you will be very motivated to help them with their suffering. Buddhism is not about misery and pain – it just posits that you must understand the problem to fix it.

  9. This type of philosophy, and it is not unique to Buddhism, has always really bugged me.

    Yes, there is pain in the world, but their is joy as well. And the pain is not in fact constant, or even consistant over time.

    The world can, and does become a better place. There was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, when the majority of children died before reaching adulthood. That has changed, and suffering is less because of it.

    And it didn’t change because people said ‘oh woe is me, we are meant to suffer’ it changed because some very smart, very brave and very dedicated people said ‘this sucks, lets fix it.’

    Will their always be sadness, pain, and suffering in the world? Almost certainly. But you don’t ‘fix it’ by wanting less, you fix it by making more a reality. And you don’t fix it from hiding from the possibility of pain.

    "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all"

    or

    "It is better to aim at the sun and miss than aim at the manure pile and hit."

  10. BTW, thank you for discussing this subject. Buddism is fascinating. I’ve been meaning to learn more about it when time permits but never seem to get around to it (there might be a lesson in that).

    Looking forward to your future posts.

    Drogidy.

  11. I too utilise a method akin to what Obidavekenobi is talking about; it is this: to have your expectations met, lower your expectations.

    If you expect people to screw you, you will be harder to screw (figuratively).

    I keep this in mind while driving and expect every other driver to ignore road rules, signs and any shade of concern for my welfare – and it’s saved my life a few times.

    It’s not a bleak outlook, as it may sound, only a ‘base-line’ one. I expect the worst, and anything else is a bonus.

  12. That is very interesting that I took a peek at your blog today as I just got done roleplaying my "Buddhist Monk" in Mike’s game last night Tsykoduk. I have been reading about The Four Noble Truths and other topics regarding Buddhism lately and it has been helping me in how I have been roleplaying. Very cool.

  13. True happiness in life comes not from having more, but desiring less. I work hard on getting closer to that as the years go by. Nice post, Tsykoduk. I look forward to more.

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