Sunday, February 03, 2008

Buddha's Suggested Solution

As a teacher of some 28 years I am well used to offering suggested solutions to examination questions.  I have always liked the qualifying adjective "suggested" as it lessens the dogmatism and the tyranny of one answer.  An old Christian Brother who taught me many years ago always used quote for us his favourite saying: "Always beware the man of one book!" - "Fainic fear an aon leabhair amháin!"  And so the title "Buddha's Suggested Solution" appeals to the liberal open-minded thinker in me.  Indeed it's the almost clinical, if not "objective" observation of one's own mind or more precisely of all the physical sensations and the thoughts and feelings the mind notices during any meditation sitting that attracts me.  It's a practical and pragmatic method also.  Meditation offers a fairly objective practice.  I shy away from saying a totally objective practice for obvious reasons.

I have already stressed the (often not so obvious because often unconscious) fact that our unrealistic, irrational and non-rational and very often our overly romantic ideals can lead to suffering.  If I have unrealistic expectations in this life I'm certainly setting myself up for a fall.  If I'm irrationally or non-rationally a perfectionist I'll eventually drive myself crazy.  If I believe that perfection exists then I'm also setting myself up for much angst and worry.  If I am overly dependent on others I'm also setting myself up for rejection at some stage when rows inevitably happen, or worse still when the other person leaves.  If I'm overly clinging to my reputation or career etc, then also I am setting myself up for probable suffering.  As I say, the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was a brilliant psychologist.  He realised all the foregoing points I have enumerated just now and suggested his Four Noble Truths as the way to fight suffering.  They appeal to many people, as they do to me, as a fairly good practical solution to the many existential, intellectual and moral problems posed by the mystery of evil.

1. First Noble Truth:

The Nature of Suffering (= Dukkha):
"Now this ... is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, ageing 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 all forms of clinging (this is called Upadana and comprises at least four types of clinging: self-doctrine clinging, wrong-view clinging, rites-and-rituals clinging, and, of course sense-pleasure clinging)


2.  Second Noble Truth:

Suffering's Origin (= Samudaya):
"Now this ... is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination."  In other words, what seems to happen is that craving becomes involved with my sense of self - I am the one who craves.  This sense of self or separation is a misleading and inaccurate understanding of life and gives rise to ego-centric grasping.

3. The Third Noble Truth:

Suffering's Cessation (Nirodha):
"Now this is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainder-less fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it."  I must give up egocentric grasping.  This entails, according to Bob Nairn, "getting directly in touch with the ignorance and desire that cause grasping, seeing it for what it is, and then letting go.  Then nirvana - extinction of thirst - is experienced." (What is Meditation, Shambhala, Boston, 2000, p. 24)


 4.  The Fourth Noble Truth:

The Way (Magga) leading to the Cessation of Suffering:
"Now this ... is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is called The Middle Way and is expressed essentially in what is called the Noble Eightfold Path that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration."   Bob Nairn describes the Middle Way thus: "It is the way of balance, good sense and no extremes.  There are two extremes into which both worldly people and practitioners fall.  The first is hedonism: the search for happiness through the pleasures of the senses.  This does not work because it is degrading, dissipates vital human energy, and ultimately leads to greater human suffering and bondage.  The second is the search for happiness through self-mortification and extreme asceticism - not so common in the West, but very common in India at the time of the Buddha." (Op. cit., 25-26)


I'll end this post with some more of my favourite Buddhist quotations:

  • Loss of mindfulness is why people engage in useless pursuits, do not care for their own interests, and remain unalarmed in the presence of things which actually menace their welfare.


  • Shakyamuni Buddha said, "Judge not others; judge only yourself." What appear to be faults in others may actually be reflections of our own emotional afflictions.
    -Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, in Advice From A Spiritual Friend

  • Just witness your mind and the meditation will be happening.And once you have got in tune with your being, you know the way, you know the how.Then it does not matter where you are. Alone or in the crowd, in the silences of the forest or in the noises of a marketplace, it is all the same. You can simply close your eyes and disappear inwards.

  • Better than a thousand useless words is one word that gives peace.


  • Overcome your uncertainties and free yourself from dwelling on sorrow. If you delight in existence, you will become a guide to those who need you, revealing the path to many.
    -Sutta Nipata


  • Laughter is spiritual health. And laughter is very unburdening. While you laugh, you can put your mind aside very easily. For a man who cannot laugh the doors of the buddha are closed.

Above I have uploaded a meditative picture - it shows Donabate Strand and I took it around 2 years ago!

No comments: