Buddhism 101: Life is about Suffering, and Its Cessation (NOT the Pursuit of Happiness)…

Statue of Buddha in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Statue of Buddha in Kandy, Sri Lanka

First Noble (Aryan, Civilized, Precious) Truth (Reality, Faith, Fact, etc.): “Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.”

In other words: Life is suffering.  If you don’t understand that, then you’ll never really understand Buddhism.  Many modern proselytizing Buddhist priests from foreign ports, and their local converts and adherents, try to downplay this fact for their shiny happy American audiences, ultimately doing a disservice to both: weakening the philosophy and misleading the Homies.  No, there is no mistranslation, nor any misunderstanding.  That’s what he said and that’s what he meant.  Our lives as Americans are a lie, shiny and happy with mouth wide open.  There’s a word for that: Christian; not Buddhist.

Second Truth: “Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to re-becoming, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for becoming, craving for dis-becoming.”

In other words: There is a cause for this suffering—desire.  Sorry, Homies, but Buddhism is not about ‘following your passion.’  ‘Following your passion’ is verrrry Christian.  This is Buddhism.  Get over it.

Third Truth: Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it.

In other words: Buddhism is about negating that desire, that passion, getting over it, getting beyond it, NOT satisfying it.  If you want to satisfy all your desires, or die trying, then there’s a word for that: Christianity, NOT Buddhism.

Four Truth: Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is this noble eightfold path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

In other words, the way around and beyond these unceasing and never-ending desires and passions is through a controlled disciplined healthy lifestyle, NOT through self-torture or ‘extreme’ activities of any kind, quite the opposite, in fact.  The eight-fold path is the Middle Path, the path between extremes, and the avoidance of them.  If you want to take a dozen self-help courses and hire a hundred teachers, you can, of course, but there’s a word for that: Christianity, NOT Buddhism.  Buddhism is simple.  It is NOT a fad religion.  It is a way of life.

Of course, religion plays the important role of ‘life coach’ for most people, so how does this rate on your inspiro-meter?  Maybe you’re thinking that it just doesn’t have that ‘get-up-and-go’ that you need to get out the door and foreclose mortgages on people who couldn’t read the fine print on the title papers to their new house?  Too bad. I think the strongest criticism of Buddhism is that it is a religion of passivity, and I think there is a certain truth to that. But for NOW–it’s what we need.

Or maybe you’re thinking that happiness is more than just the absence of sadness, more pro-active, more acquisitive.  We Americans are spoiled by our unparalleled consumer culture of the last seventy years.  We expect new toys for every mood and a new ‘look’ for every occasion.  This is just another form of gluttony, like over-eating or too much drink or drug or sex.  The result of these lusts is obesity, addiction and other afflictions, of course, just like Mama said.  Balance is the key.

I really worry about what Americans will do when the New Dark Ages come, and ‘Growth’ slows to a crawl, and ‘Progress’ climbs up a wall, trying to get a better view.  On paper, we should do better than most, since our roots are so shallow, and our migrations so recent.  In reality, though, I fear just the opposite: that our gluttony, and philosophical embrace of it, leaves us poorly prepared for what is to come–survival.  Ironically, fundamentalist Christians—and hippies—may be best prepared of all Americans.  It’ll take a solid world-view.  Buddhism rates best IMHO.

Look at it this way: is a good offense really the best defense?  There’s a word for that: you know.  That simple statement probably defines American culture better than any other for me.  Or is maybe a good defense the best offense, on the other hand?  If it were, might we not all move forward together and at similar rates, without clear winners and losers?  Think about it.  Is fierce competition really the best way forward?  There’s an old saying in Latin: “Primum non nocere;” that is: first, do no harm.  To do nothing is better than to do something bad.  Is that negative, or is that a guide to mutual survival?

I submit to you that conquering Nature is not always the best way of life, nor is dog-eat-dog competition.  Sharing economies work, and if resources are properly managed, there is plenty to go around.  My goal is not to denigrate or disparage Western culture.  As with the paradigm of Islam, Christianity and Buddhism comprising the three stages of life, then now is the Buddhist phase for our planet, with the accent on wisdom, rationing, rationale, and sharing.  It sounds good to me.

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