A Primer on Buddhism: Buddhist Basics
The balance between practicing Buddhism and dealing with your current position is a taxing problem. On one hand the situation may be really bad, on the other, really good. Therefore, a helpful paradigm is a plan to deal with any problem.
Some helpful things for all times:
- No matter where you are or what you have done, you can reach enlightenment
- Evil never wins- the only finality is in realizing the Dhamma
- Any good action is preferable to any evil one
- There is no limit to the number of tries you have, the time you have, the failures you experience, before reaching any goal.
A common mistake in the Buddhist practice is practicing for the practice’s sake. For example, when sitting to meditate the motivation might be to perform an action which marks the status of an excellent individual. Instead, the motivation should be to resolve very real problems. An overarching analogy that is always helpful is one of war. The enemy is evil, the desire to hold on to things even though they might be gone any moment and will inevitably collapse. Evil is also any harmful influence, phenomenon, practice. The crucial struggle is raging within you however. The external evils one might face affect individuals variably. For example, a warrior might face execution differently than the average individual. Though the event being faced is the same, the aplomb and courage a warrior might show before his death are in Buddhist terms worlds improved compared to the fear and anger an average person might produce.
In this war analogy, the soldiers on your side are good deeds, plain and simple. There good deeds might vary in nature and magnitude yet any good deed is helpful nonetheless. Several examples of good deeds include helping others, contemplating the transience of things, cultivating loving thoughts for others, exerting will to combat evil within, and learning.
The war analogy is apt also because breaks do not help. One might tire in this path, a common thing to do, yet one must not stop practicing, even if practice means rest. Fears and worries affect you without regard for how long you’ve spent fighting them or how long you’ve spent trying good deeds. Therefore, the Buddhist doctrine is a very action-oriented, real world solution to the aches and pains we human beings endure. There is no such thing as too tired because even the smallest good deed replaces the most evil one. Very often Buddhism means that in the middle of doing some horrible thing you stop doing it and reflect on what you’ve done. War means appreciating not just progress but also the avoidance of losses. Catching yourself before doing some harmful deed is just as important as doing good deeds themselves.
Chapter one: Doing good deeds
First is recognition. One has to recognize the benefits of healing, growth, production, peace. This can come simply from trying these acts oneself or simply witnessing these processes in action. Always recognize the plight of wrongdoing. Lying means living multiple antagonistic worlds. Hurting someone else means making an enemy. Neglecting your well being means weakening your abilities to combat the problems you face. Doing good deeds means not just doing good deeds. Doing good deeds also means not doing bad ones. Evil complicates our world, Buddhism seeks to simplify it. Motivation means looking for something better, not much more. The simplest ideas are often the strongest because in difficult times they can be referred to without much trouble. A single word or memory can mean much difference when all becomes greatly confusing.
Each action is a step, be it good or bad. Each action also carries with it some momentum. This is why the path is most difficult in the beginning, because the momentum is usually downward, like gravity. It is easy to do evil things when an understanding of evil consequences is absent. Doing good is like going uphill. Sure, the climb is strenuous, but isn’t it worth it to make it to heaven rather than sink to hell?
Simplicity, again, is paramount. This is why you should learn about evil and good in your own world with your own examples. Perfection is not necessary for good to exist. Though the Buddha thousands of years ago was perfect, he achieved that perfection while being imperfect. Makes sense right? If we were born perfect we wouldn’t need so much help to achieve the simplest moments of peace and happiness.
Many times love and goodness can be found in the past, where you committed good deeds that were not necessarily great or recognized, but good nevertheless. The past also may contain examples of other people doing good for you. This type of historical reflection is helpful because much confusion is eliminated when the basis for a thought is one’s own experience. Buddhism teaches our own ability to distort and misinterpret our past, but going in with a good attitude for a good purpose should help with that.
Even imagining good things has much power. Wishing and dreaming for a better day means the world. Change is the law of the world. You were born a baby and now you are who you are. Every action we do has some impact, and finality is not achieved with death. We answer for our actions no matter what, like a law of physics. The Buddhist goal is ultimate peace, the cessation of worldly continuance. Since you are imperfect like every other Buddha was before they became Buddha, rejoice that your situation is just a situation, and you can someday rise with enough effort.
The Buddhist doctrine therefore resigns no sinner to the permanent fate of sinner. Anyone can make it out. Actions make you and you may change your actions. The disheartening truth is that progress is at times slow, but like doing push ups when you are no way close to completing one, one gets better by simply trying the Buddhist path.
Dealing with Failure
Failure is educational. Learning is the foremost priority in Buddhism. By learning about our situation and the nature of existence, one becomes free. Learning, however, doesn’t mean hiding. Trial and error are the foundation for learning. The error part is misunderstood. Error doesn’t just mean messing up and automatically being able to move on. Error means all the pain and suffering which comes from a misdeed. The difference between doing wrong on purpose and doing wrong while trying to do right is learning. One faces the consequences of any purposeful, intentional action. However, since you made the mistake while trying to learn what’s right, you will learn that what you did was wrong, even though the consequences of that mistake have an effect.
Disheartening might be the apt word to describe this reality. No matter how hard you try to do good you will do bad, just by nature of not being perfect. However, the value of learning may lighten your mood. Learning means understanding what’s right and wrong. Where before your mistake you did not know it was wrong, now you do, so next time you won’t do the same thing again. As with all enterprise, the Buddhist path is progressive, meaning, accomplishments do not happen all at once, but rather gradually. However, every step you take is complete in itself, no matter how small. For example, while trying to help someone out with their problems you take on an arrogant tone. You recognize that arrogant tone for being wrong and resolve not to do it again. However, the next time you help someone out that tone comes out again. Completely ending that arrogant side may not have happened the first time you recognized arrogance within yourself and resolved to abstain from it. Nevertheless, that realization is an important first step. Whereas before that realization you may not have understood arrogance for what it is, now you have one example where you recognized arrogance and the hindrance it became when trying to help out your friend. We are builders on this path. Like any building, one has to start with a foundation and steadily build up. Sometimes we rush and build a part of the building wrong and feel the impact later on, several steps ahead, as the building gets weaker and weaker. Sometimes we spend too long on the foundation and fail to take the necessary leap into starting with the building itself. These are all mistakes that will happen yet should not dishearten anybody. As long as learning takes place these mistakes do not repeat itself and progress on this path is attained.
Failure hurts most when you recognize the same actions you did before you endeavored towards goodness happen while you endeavor towards goodness. You slip up, return to your own ways, seemingly unaware of the new direction you want with your life. Catch yourself, and turn towards goodness again. Every time you turn away from evil the good path strengthens. Every time you turn from evil the better you are turning away from evil. No matter how far gone you may be, repetition of this kind of action only builds the necessary strength within oneself to follow through and continue.
Reflection is a great practice. Failures of the past can be redeemed by learning from them. Analyze the actions you did before, during, and after failure. Deliberate upon their possible effects and compare such failure to other failures from the past. Think about how you might do differently now if faced with a similar situation. Resolve generally to walk the Buddhist path and attain complete peace and enlightenment.
Pain and sadness accompany failure, though they do not have to. One can see this, like before, with the different ways people handle the same situation. Walking to execution with your head held up high means everything. Succumbing to fear and worry makes the execution accomplish what it intended to. If you die well, if you die bravely, the angels sing for your resolve.
Much of what makes failure detrimental we do ourselves. It is not just the failure which hurts but also our reactions to it. Disappointment and anger towards oneself are not necessary parts of failure. Those are separate actions. If instead we endeavor to do good instead of feeling anger or ill will towards ourselves, good results happen. You are the master of your own fate. The evil and good within you are created by you and therefore can be changed by you. Emphasize newness and freshness in you actions and avoid regret and fixation upon the evil you do. Rather than ignore your faults altogether, realize them but react differently. Decipher the reasons behind your failures and understand their foundation. No one does your actions but you. You can choose to learn and move on even if you did not earlier in the same situation. The Buddhist path is one of self-determination and responsibility, not because anyone wants to control you, but because reality reflects the benefits of such qualities. Actions are the masters of your life, and you alone commit the actions which affect you. No one can do your actions for you. No one else may walk this path but you. Your failures and triumphs are yours alone, and by all means share their fruits with everyone, but understand the tree is of your own creation. As you help others learn from them. We as a group can avoid many problems if one person’s can teach everyone else. It is not true that all must by tried by the individual in order to learn. Other people’s experience is equally valuable. However, such experience is different from yours in that your experience can stand by itself while another’s has to be learned in relation to your own in order to help. This is because information often gets lost through communication. We are not perfect beings yet we can becomes so through gradual means of refinement. Your experience is the ultimate authority of your learning and progress in life. Pair up your own experience with others in order to augment understanding. One way this can be accomplished is by attaining a diverse body of knowledge about examples and events which took place. Diversity helps weed out the pitfalls of insular knowledge. If something behaves the same across many situations, that something is probably relevant to your study, if it deals with well being and suffering.
I love you. Books and TV and music are great ways to understand the world because through them people transmit the content of their beings. Such media are of course corruptible, you simply have to find for yourself the ones that ring of truth. Diversity refers not just to the experiences of other but also your own experience. Try things that are rarely tried so you may understand phenomena that are not well documented. The lessons you learn should be compared with similar lessons from widely diverse experiences. The quality of media is a great test to its character. If a book or movie or song is written well and performed well there is a certain goodness to it. The dedication and love required to accomplish skill in anything is a true aspiration of a Buddhist. The works don’t even have to have anything explicitly to do with Buddhism. Common themes help identify what may be helpful for your situation. Look for art which emphasizes triumph over difficulties and resolution despite failure. Buddhism is evident in many places though ideas may not be advertised as such. Anything positive is essentially Buddhist because Buddhism means eradicating suffering. Anything which heals illness or calms anger, preaches love and quells hate, fights tyranny and supports the downtrodden, is Buddhist.
Buddhism literally means understanding the truth for oneself. The truth, as relevant to our suffering as living beings include,
- Suffering is inherent to life
- Craving causes suffering
- Suffering is eliminated when craving is eliminated
- Craving is eliminated by the Eightfold path
The Eightfold path is Right Intention, Right Understanding, Right Effort, Right Concentration, Right Mindfulness, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood
Craving is different from desire. Desire can be good or bad. The desire to accomplish Buddhist goals is a good desire. Craving is different because it entails a holding on to things which inherent change. Buddhism pictures the things we hold on to in life as one would a person trying to water as it rushed through their hands. The goal of preservation is an impossible one because anything may be gone in any moment. In any realm of life there is always a force superior to it. An asteroid or meteor may strike anytime. Disease may break out. War may transpire. Fragility of life is at the heart of the Buddhist teaching. Failure to understand fragility is a key reason behind despair. Whatever we despair for must pass at some time, be it now or later. The Buddhist path seeks to recognize the transience of things so that we do not hold on.