Saying of the week: "All of life builds up to and then radiates from a single
moment." -- Milan Kundera
One of my loves in this life is the study and practice of Zen philosophy. While reading from Beyond The Sky and Earth, by Jamie Zeppa (a beautifully written book about living in Bhutan that I highly recommend to everyone) I came across the following description of Buddhism and was impressed at how she expresses complex ideas simply. Hope you like it.
The first of the Four Noble Truths taught by the Buddha claims that life is suffering. The second truth explains why. We suffer because the self desires, grasps, clings, is never satisfied, never happy, never free of its many illusions; we desire what we don’t have, and when we get it, we desire to hold on to it, and when we are sure we have it, we lose interest in it and desire something new. In our constant, blind striving for something more, something better, something new, something secure and permanent, we act in ways that hurt ourselves and others, and create bad karma, which leads to rebirth and therefore more suffering. Even if we manage to be content with what we have, we are still subject to old age, sickness and death, and so are our loved ones. The third truth says that we must end this ceaseless wanting and grasping if we want to end suffering. The final truth explains how – through th Noble Eightfold Path of Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.
The Buddha did not claim to be a deity. When asked about the creation of the universe and the existence of God, he refused to speculate. He was not offering a new religion but a way of seeing and living in the world. For me, though, one of the most interesting things about Buddhism is not that there is no all-powerful God who we must fall down and worship, but that there is no permanent self, no essence of self. It isn’t even clear among scholars if Buddhism accepts the idea of a soul, an immortal individual spirit. Separateness is an illusion. Nothing exists inherently on its own, independently of everything else, and a separate, permanent, inherently existing self is the biggest illusion of all. There is nothing we can point to and say, yes, this is the self. It is not the body or the mind, but a combination of conditions and circumstances and facilities. At the moment of death, these conditions and facilities break down, and only the karma generated by that life remains, determining the circumstances of the next rebirth.
This is a principal tenet of Buddhism, but the Buddha tells his disciples not to take his word for it. They are to analyze and search and test what he says for themselves. On his deathbed, he reminds them, “Decay is inherent in all compound things. Work out your own salvation with diligence.” I am struck by this spirit of independent inquiry, by the fact that enlightenment is available to all, not through a priest or a church or divine intervention but through attention to the mind. In Buddhism, there is no devil, no external dark force – there is only your mind, and you must take responsibility for what you want and how you choose to get it.