Posts Tagged ‘Eightfold Path’

your questions about Buddhism

October 25th, 2017    -    4 Comments

What drew you to Buddhism? What do you like about Buddhism? Where can you learn about Buddhism?

I didn’t do it. I can’t explain it. I don’t know.

There is the kind of “Buddhism” that people might study in college, meaning its history, geography, and impact on world events. Then there’s a kind of “Buddhism” that people choose to believe in and adhere to, like a political party. These folks think of Buddhism as a philosophy or source of inspiration. Maybe even a religion. They like it better than other alternatives. But the Buddhism that found me is first, foremost and only a practice. It is a way to do things, and not do certain other things.

Whether you’re interested in Buddhism or not, you might be interested in reading my books. Because they are about life. Buddhism is about the truth of life and not anything else.

the truth about lying

March 9th, 2014    -    3 Comments

buddha

Or, what a buddha does not say.

An untroubled mind,
No longer seeking to consider
What is right and what is wrong,
A mind beyond judgments,
Watches and understands.
— The Dhammapada

Why would a Buddhist have to think twice about lying? Admittedly, lying is disagreeable. If we don’t agree on that, there’s no sense having a conversation about honesty. “Right speech” is codified into the Eightfold Path, the Buddha’s teaching on the way out of suffering. It’s there in black and white: “Don’t lie.”

Only it’s not black and white and it’s doesn’t say that. The “right” in right speech (and each element of the path) does not mean the opposite of “wrong.” It is not a dualistic comparison. Right speech is whole, perfected, wise, skillful, appropriate, necessary, and non-divisive. That’s a lot of words to describe the language that arises out of the nondistracted awareness of your awakened mind, free of judgments about this or that, right and wrong, if and when, you and me. That’s why right speech is so often expressed by silence.

The Abhaya Sutra categorizes what a buddha does not say:

1. Words known to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others.

2. Words known to be factual, true, yet unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others.

3. Words known to be factual, true, beneficial, yet unendearing and disagreeable to others, because it is not yet the proper time to say them.

4. Words known to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others.

5. Words known to be factual, true, but unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others.

Right speech is not only a lesson in how to speak. It is an admonition to practice: to watch and wait until the mind opens and intuitive wisdom finds its own compassionate expression. In the real world, abstract discussion about honesty doesn’t go far enough, because living beings are not abstractions. That’s the most inconvenient truth of all.

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
Then you can care for all things.
— Tao Te Ching

Excerpted from my review of Sam Harris’s book Lying in the March 2014 Shambhala Sun on newsstands now.

homesick

November 10th, 2011    -    16 Comments

Not long ago I heard from someone who thanked me for giving her permission to struggle with her depression. Oh yes, I assured her, by all means, struggle! Depression is the sane response to the insanity of our lives. Depression is the struggle to be sane! We’re not fools if we struggle with depression. We’re fools if we don’t. It’s crucial that we seek, so we can finally exhaust ourselves, turn around, and find what we already possess.

They say every sickness is homesickness, and when I hear that, I feel sick for every moment I spend running away. They still outweigh the length I stay.

Even on a good day, when we’re snug in the bosom of our sweetest sentiments, in the Eden of our dreams, it doesn’t feel like home for very long. The stirrings start. The restlessness rears. We become feverish with longing, a longing that consumes our every thought. We might even make a home of our homesickness, becoming naturalized to a state of unrest and alienation. I’ve got to get out of here. How many times have you said that to yourself today?

Much of the time, our own life feels like a foreign country we can’t wait to get out of. And not a nice foreign country, either.  Even life with the people we profess to love, to whom we have promised fidelity. (Especially those people.) Even the half-decent job, the nice neighborhood, the loyal friends, the adorable kids, the good luck, the manifold blessings, the plan realized, the wish come true — nothing settles or calms for long, nothing feels quite right. There’s no place like the home you think you don’t have.

We’re all looking for something more, in a state of mild-to-moderate or even chronic despair. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you’ve got — how well you can manage your store of talents or prospects — you are somehow convinced that you haven’t yet got “it.” Not the whole of it, not enough to be completely satisfied or secure. Maybe you haven’t yet figured it out, had it happen, gotten it done, or pulled it together. You might think you need a lucky break, a promotion, a new body, another lover — or the old lover — another child; you might call it higher purpose, passion, or simply, inspiration. Maybe you want things to be as good as they were before, back when you didn’t know how good it was. Maybe you want things to be better than ever, as good as everyone else seems to have it. Feeling as if you’re not enough and don’t have enough, I want you to know, is good enough. It’s what got you this far.

Thus we arrive at the first step on the path of faith, a step that Buddha called “right view.” It is the slender flicker of wisdom, the illuminating certainty that you are lost. As verification of your own insight, it is followed immediately by the second step, the realization that you have to turn yourself around. You have go back home.

And here you are.

easy rest inn

August 6th, 2011    -    4 Comments

When I was growing up we used to snicker about my dad and his hankering for road trips. He would plan for days or weeks, map alternate routes, fill the tires, top the tank, load the car, and wake us in the dark to start the drive so we could get there – wherever that was – ahead of schedule. And then he would be perfectly miserable in the place and with the people we had come to see. These trips always ended the way they began: uncomfortably early.

Near the end of his life, he made one last road trip across country to visit me. He never made it. He stopped at a hotel an hour from my home and called, asking me to come up and meet him for lunch. After a hamburger and a side of fries, he hugged me in the parking lot, turned around, and drove back the twelve hundred miles he’d come. His affliction was no longer a quirk. His sickness had prevailed and overtaken him, and he was utterly without a single square inch of home.

I ache to think of his lonely exile, but I don’t think he was so different than anyone else. His curse is mine and yours, too. The road is pitiless when the company you can neither keep nor avoid is your own. And yet, by degrees of habit, this is how we all live. We are all lost in the dark until we see the light up ahead and aim for it. There is always a light ahead. read more

a little problem with suffering

January 24th, 2011    -    22 Comments

Sometimes I get a little pushback on the topic of Buddhism, particularly the subject of suffering. People say something like, “Gosh, all that talk about suffering! Aren’t you guys a bit over the top with all the suffering? That’s so negative.”

Yes, it’s true, the foundation of Buddha’s teaching is the Four Noble Truths, which usually are stated like this:

Life contains suffering
The origin of suffering is attachment
The cessation of suffering is attainable
There’s an Eightfold Path to freedom

Let me be clear. Buddhism doesn’t elevate, emphasize or worship suffering. Buddhism says, “Let’s just face the facts, people.” Despite our earnest attempts to conjure optimism, hope, abundance, luck, gratitude, aptitude, cleverness, perfect SATs, and triumphant superiority, there is nothing more universally human than having a problem.

To prove it, let’s take the word “suffering.” You might have a problem with it. Suffering sounds so big – Haitian earthquake, Tucson rampage, global warming big – when the kind of suffering most of us encounter every day is so embarrassingly trivial we might not even recognize it as suffering. More like WHO ATE THE REST OF MY MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP.

There’s all the other kinds of suffering too – like old age, sickness, death, Jersey Shore, and taxes – but we can’t really do much about those, can we? So the kind of suffering we start with is the kind that actually causes us and everyone around us the most problems AS FOR INSTANCE WHEN SOMEONE WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS (YOU) ATE THE REST OF MY MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP.

So I like to state the Four Noble Truths this way:

Life is full of problems.
It always seems like my problem starts with you but it really starts with me.
It always seems like you should fix my problem but in the end it’s up to me.
I’m going to the store, want anything?

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