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Good morning, my friends.
I have looked forward to this day, for Buddhism is part of the spiritual/philosophical tradition of the Indian subcontinent…a tradition that spoke deeply to me during my time with Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism).
To define Buddhism as a religion is inaccurate. Some believe this system is atheistic. Others, a non-theistic extension of Hinduism. There are many schools within Buddhism and therefore innumerable ways in which to interpret and practice the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama Sakyamuni, the Buddha, the Awakened One. Buddhism is in fact a system, a technique taught by the Buddha to reach the state of Nirvana. Nirvana, which literally means “to blow out,” is not a place like heaven, but a state of being.
What makes this month both exciting and challenging is that from day one I must let go of any concept regarding the divine I’ve gleaned thus far. There is no room for faith, as we know it, in some divine existence. Buddhism is a method of living and existing based on empirical knowledge via the Buddha. Indeed, the oldest known teachings of the Awakened One says little to nothing in this regard. Our focus is on recognizing the Four Noble Truths and practicing the Eightfold Path.
The Four Noble Truths:
1) The existence of suffering.
2) The cause of suffering: attachment due to ignorance of the fact that reality is impermanent.
3) The extinction of suffering by eliminating its cause: ignorance and therefore, attachment.
4) The way that leads to the extinction of suffering: the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path:
2) Right Thought
3) Right Speech
4) Right Action
5) Right Livelihood
6) Right Effort
7) Right Mindfulness
To reach enlightenment and to release oneself from the bonds of suffering due to attachment, one must acknowledge the Four Noble Truths and in turn, master the Eightfold Path. It is here that we see the major difference between Buddhism and theistic practices. The Buddha, like a scientist or physician, has identified a clear problem (suffering), its cause, and offers a solution to suffering’s cure. The Eightfold Path is then the treatment of the cancer that is suffering. His methods are the result of six years of exploration via extreme asceticism, decadence, and meditation. Buddhism then, becomes the “Middle Way” of serene moderation.
The Buddha’s practice of experimentation will set the tone for my month with Buddhism. Many techniques exist for reaching Nirvana. I will adopt a few from different sources, however my practice of Buddhism will more closely resemble the Theravadin school, considered the oldest and most conservative of the traditions.
Here is a breakdown of my daily routine (at least in the beginning). The idea here is to discover what works, not to become stagnant with processes and rituals which produce nothing but pious habits.
Wake up- 5:30 a.m.
For me, the best way to wake up is with fresh air and a morning jog. Today I started out with brief study of the Four Noble Truths, strapped on some shoes, and meditated on these concepts as I took a quick 1-mile run with Toby, the family dog.
After a nice run and a hot shower, my mind is clear and alert. I can now focus without becoming lethargic. Toby is also happy.
Many texts exist regarding the teaching of the Buddha, however all schools agree that the Dhammapada is the closest document to the original words of the Buddha himself. Dhammapada means the “path of dhamma (Dharma in Sanskrit)” and therefore the path of truth, virtue, and/or law. Because these are the words most closely associated with the Master’s teaching, I will rely on this text the most throughout the month and therefore the document (and Siddhartha himself) becomes my Mentor.
Along with the Dhammapada, other texts also will also assist in my training.
Relaxed and ready to begin, I sit in front of my altar and prepare for study and meditation.
Altar-Shelf contents include: A miniature statue of the Buddha, candles, incense, a reed arrangement, mala beads, books, book stand, bell.
The Buddha statue is not an idol for worship. Though schools of Buddhism exist that offer prayers to different forms of the Buddha, the Theravadin tradition views the Buddha as the supreme teacher and guide. In this way, my use of the statue represents the Buddha sitting before me as I study and meditate as if he were present and instructing me in person. Lit candles represent the gradual burn of karma and attachment until the candlelight fades. Once the flame runs out of fuel and puffs out, that is the symbol of Nirvana, when all desire and ignorance is snuffed out. Incense can represent many things, including the smoke as a symbol of prayers offered up to the Buddha. Here the smoke and scent represent the sweet atmosphere of the Buddha’s teachings. Mala beads are a meditation tool to count chanting rounds or to simply relax the mind. The reed bundle reminds me of nature and life. A bell assists with announcing the beginning of any session of study or meditation.
Thanks to Stefin for lending many of these materials to me this month. May happiness fill your life in every moment, old friend.
Now, I begin with reading the first canto of the Dhammapada, “The Twin Verses.” The title of the canto references the style in which the canto is written. Each verse bears a negative or positive reflection of itself. For example:
The hatred of those who harbor such ill feelings as, “He reviled me, assaulted me, vanquished me and robbed me,” is never appeased. -Canto 1, verse 3
Is immediately followed by:
The hatred of those who do not harbor such feelings…is easily pacified. -Canto 1, verse 4
After reading the entire canto, I return to the first verse and meditate on the words, the meaning, how they sound in my mind…how it resonates within. According to the book, “How to Become a Buddha,” the first step is to master one’s mind. Buddhism is about bringing one’s self to complete and present awareness in the moment; to let go of anxiety and dependencies. My mind is constantly racing, so using the first verse of the Dhammapada as a meditation helps give my mind direction. Those who attain enlightenment reach a state of “no-thought” where they are no longer bombarded by the idle wanderings of their subconscious mind. They are totally and utterly, still.
That is the goal of every Buddhist, and though I will only be with this tradition for a month, it is my goal as well.
My morning study and meditation session ends when the rest of my family wakes. From there, my day is filled with mastering the Eightfold Path and contemplating the morning readings. Buddhism is about being absolutely serenity despite outside stimuli and in turn spreading happiness to others. In this way it is a teaching that is to be lived, breathed, expressed, and shared at every moment and with every being, because the Buddha taught that all we have is this very moment.
Of course, there is more and I will explore these later. The most difficult part of this month will be detaching from my own daydreams. Much of my day (and dreams) are filled with far-reaching imaginings, so to bring those under control, still my mind, and live precisely now is no small matter.
What are some of your attachments/habits holding you back from living in the moment? Is this a teaching you could use this month to free yourself from any mental, emotional, or spiritual shackles? I’d love to hear from you. This is a great opportunity to lean on one another and allow our experiences (the greatest teacher, according to the Buddha) guide us to enlightenment.
My teaching is neither a theory nor a philosophy, but the fruit of experience. Everything I say comes from my experience and you too can confirm it through your own experience. Words do not describe reality: only experience shows us its true face. –The Master, the Awakened One, the Buddha.