Essential Buddhism for Modern Lifeabracad, · Categories: buddhism, meditation, purpose
Buddhism is based on teachings of the Buddha (dharma), Siddhartha Gautama, who lived some 2500 years ago. It is estimated to have some 500 million followers, over 7% of the global population [Pew Research Center]. While traditionally considered an Eastern 'religion' it is gaining popularity in the West in recent years with some 4 million adherents in North America in 2010 [Pew Research Center], likely seen as an antidote to the perceived stresses and ultimate emptiness of modern life.
Buddhism is more a philosophy than a religion. It has no God, but rather offers a description of the nature of reality and guidance on how a being with free will might negotiate that reality.
The ultimate Buddhist goal of enlightenment can take a lifetime (or several) of the contemplative existence of a monk to reach. However, such devotion is not essential to benefit from Buddhist teachings, even in the midst of worldly life.
Upon attaining his own enlightenment, Buddha set forth the 4 Noble Truths which encapsulate the essence of his teaching and the nature of human existence, ie:
- Life is suffering / unsatisfactoriness (dukkha).
- The cause of suffering / unsatisfactoriness is attachment.
- There is a way to end suffering / unsatisfactoriness.
- That way is the Noble 8-fold path (ie right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration).
The Key Buddhist Principle for Modern Life
Everything is impermanent (annica). Impermanence + Attachment = Misery
All pleasurable things will pass, whether in moments or decades, the certainty of which brings sadness even within the greatest pleasure. (Conversely, when the moment sucks, rest assured that 'this too shall pass'.)
If science - ie the best accumulated, evidenced knowledge - is to be believed, we are solely the product of evolution, all the way back to the 'big bang'. Evolution drives us to survive and reproduce. It's not the purpose of evolution to savor the moment, but rather to always restlessly seek the next meal / mate / buzz. In other words, to always be dis-satisfied.
The Buddhist solution is about cultivating the mentality of mindfulness. As Ram Dass says: Be Here Now.
Mindfulness doesn't mean spending most of your time sitting cross-legged chanting mantras, though if that works for you - fine. It's about getting into the habit of actually appreciating the moment instead of allowing your mind to always dwell on the past / future / somewhere / anywhere other than here and now.
Mindfulness doesn't mean abandoning dreams and plans for the future, but keeping them in proportion with simply enjoying the pleasures of the moment. Sure the nice afternoon / meal / party / vacation / youth / life itself will end - but that doesn't mean it can't be appreciated while it lasts, even in full knowledge of its transience.
Mindfulness is a recommended treatment for stress, anxiety and depression by the British NHS.
Mindfulness is difficult. It takes willful effort to overcome billions of years of evolutionary conditioning to be anywhere other than here and now. But it's worth the perseverance.
Buddhism and Modern Psychology, Robert Wright Coursera course
The Buddha's Teaching As It Is - An Introductory Course Ten Audio lectures by Bhikkhu Bodhi
BuddhaNet Worldwide Buddhist Information and Education Network
Filed in: buddhism, meditation, purpose