Knowing, Understanding and Realization
In this age of knowledge, we come across an abundance of knowledge. We create knowledge and abandon knowledge when someone creates or finds new knowledge. Consider the knowledge about food we eat. Few decades ago, based on the then prevailing knowledge, US government constructed a food pyramid. Recently, after researchers generated new knowledge regarding the foods, and their nutritional values, the previous food pyramid changed because the new knowledge caused abandonment of some of the previous knowledge. We can find these shifts in knowledge in all areas such as medicine, psychology, physics, and chemistry (to name a few). Buddha Dhamma is going beyond mere knowledge. To gain benefits from this Dhamma just knowing is inadequate. Just knowing the dependent-origination or four Noble Truths is inadequate. It is necessary to understand it and then it is necessary to achieve a realization.
Buddha Dhamma or Buddha’s teachings have survived through thousands of years due to inherent truths that reveals the true nature of existences and the world. The essence of the Buddha’s teachings is in the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are truths because they are applicable to everyone, everywhere and at any time. One can claim about possessing the knowledge of these Four Noble Truths by reading Dhamma books and remembering them. However, in order to make best use of these truths, it is necessary to go beyond the preliminary knowledge or knowledge stage. There are four different aspects of ‘behaviors’ (psychological and physical) associated with each four. The first Noble Truth must be insight-fully understood. The second Noble Truth or the cause must be done away with. The third Noble Truth must be realized. The fourth Noble Truth must be developed (or cultivated through practice).
There are certain characteristics of Buddha Dhamma – which has the essence of Four Noble Truths. They are: (i) it is well proclaimed or well defined in more contemporary terms (ii) it is visible here and now – one does not have to wait for the next life to see at least some glimpse of it (iii) it is ageless – applicable in the past, now and in the future (iv) worthy of investigation – open to everyone, i.e., there are no secret teachings in it (v) it takes a person through gradual path inwards – towards further insights (vi) has to be personally realized – no one can realize it for you or lift you up to the state of realization or hold you from realizing it.
Authentic sources of reference for Four Noble Truths are: Dhamma Chakka Pavattana Sutta , Saccha Vibhanga Sutta
If we use a single word for the first Noble Truth, it is ‘unsatisfactoriness’ or ‘dukkha’. If a person considers this only at the knowledge level, she or he will say it is a pessimistic view of life. If a person understands, the first Noble Truth that person will not become sad when ‘bad’ things happen. Main entry to this understanding is wise reflection or ‘manasikara’. If a person reflects wisely on one’s own life and that of others, it is possible to understand that, the natures explained by the first Noble Truth is applicable in general to everyone and inevitable.
Improperly guarded or unguarded mind becomes vulnerable to ‘defilements’ (such as greed, lust, anger, ignorance) that obstruct the understanding. However, through proper reflections at least glimpse of the understanding can be gained. The goal of the practice is to develop understanding with the aim of realization.
Realization is not a mere intellectual activity but advancing beyond mere understanding culminating in a defilement free mind. Mind is the forerunner of all our behavior and thinking. When a person develops the mind through the gradual Buddhist practice, realization makes it possible to free the mind of the defilement.
The objective of Buddhist practice is the final realization of Nirvana. Such realization needs development of mental factors: confidence (shraddha), effort (viriya), mindfulness (sati), concentration (samadhi) and wisdom (pragna). It is essential to have a proper balance of these factors. This stage of development does not happen overnight and it needs perseverance and patience. The practices for this have to be done gradually. Just like when a person learns to swim, she does not directly jump to the deep end of the pool. Swimming starts with the practice of proper breathing, and gradually move to lifting of the foot from the floor, floating etc. Similarly, in Buddhist practices one takes a diligent yet a gradual approach.
The path is classified in different ways: (i) virtuous conduct (seela), concentration (Samadhi), wisdom (pragna) (ii) parami or practices that takes one person beyond the vicissitudes of the rounds of rebirth (samsara). Once a person attains proper realization, an unwavering following of the path occurs. At that stage, the practice has advanced beyond parami.
The following are from discussions held at the Vihara in the past
Topic: Awareness of Death
Date: 29th December 2000
In the world there are many beliefs, rituals and practices associated with death and there are many mysteries, myths and stories centered around the phenomena of death. We use the word death often in our daily lives. If our car does not start we’d say the battery is dead. The human body is like a car, when it has energy it moves around and stops running when the necessary factors, such as engine, electrical and mechanical components, malfunction. We call the human body when it is out of life. It becomes out of life when it becomes unsuitable for the mind to dwell in. Fundamentally, death occurs due to one of the four reason: (i) termination of Karma (Kammakhaya), (ii) end of life span – Ayu (end of strength due to genetics), (iii) end of both Karma and Ayu (iv) opposing Karma – sudden or untimely death (Akalmarana).
Buddha always advised his disciples to be aware of death. Awareness of death brings about clarity of mind and alertness. A person practicing awareness of death fulfills her/his duties without delay, and does not quarrel with others. When reflecting upon death a person should not recollect the death of loved ones because that brings up sorrow. On the other hand reflection of death is not thinking about ones own death specifically because that could bring up anxiety. Hence, the buddhist way is to think about the nature of death.
(i) death is like a robber which robs a person of wealth etc.
(ii) death is common to everybody, whether rich or poor, strong or weak, black, brown, yellow or white, long or short, fat or lean.
(iii) death cannot be foretold by signs. For example we cannot say all the people with such and such a name, race etc. will die at a certain time of the day, at a certain age. Similarly, the place where the body will lie after death cannot be predicted by these common signs.
(iv) Death could occur at any age, at any place, and a person’s body could lie anywhere at the moment of death.
(the group discussed many questions pertaining to death after the initial presentation and the topic to be discussed in the next session was selected)
Topic: How does merit get transferred to next life
Date: 5th January 2001
The logical question to ask with the awareness of death is: what kind of behavior is the most suitable when facing this inevitable death”.
In the daily life people buy insurance policies due to fear of disasters, dangers, calamities and losses etc. Similarly, a wise person aware of death does meritorious deeds, and follow dhamma. In Samyuttha Nikaya, Kosala Samyutta, “Simile of the Boulder” buddha shows that the path to follow when the inevitable happens is to lead a balanced life, follow the dhamma and to do meritorious deeds.
Meritorious deeds are those that suppresses or helps the mind be devoid the roots of defilement, i.e., greed, hatred and delusion. Due to lack of exertion the mind always wonder alone, it thinks about past, or future. In absence of right effort the defiling conditions occur very often. Therefore, a person will do meritorious deeds to purify the mind.
Who gets the benefit of the meritorious deeds if there is no ‘self’? Is the same person who does deeds will reap the benefits or is it another person who will reap the benefits?
Buddha did not fall into two extremes when explaining who reaps the benefits. One extreme is to say “it is the same person who reaps the benefits”. The other extreme is to say “it is another person who reaps the benefits”. It is neither the same person nor a completely different person”.
Consider and infant growing up to be an old man. An infant grows up to become a child who is not the same as the infant yet she is not completely different from the infant. Similarly each stage is not completely different from the earlier stages and at the same time not the same as the earlier stages. It is a mental and biological process that continues. Therefore, meritorious deeds will bring benefits and happiness to the future continuing being of this process.
However, due to uncertainties in the cycles of existence in the future, it is wiser to seek Nirvana or enlightenment to end the birth, aging, sickness and death etc. The deeds that helps a person to attain Nirvana are called parami or the deeds done out of compassion (kindness) and wisdom.
Discussions on thoughts of detachments, factors leading to enlightenment, and compassion followed.
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.
Holding on is different from focus. Focus should be on doing good deeds and becoming more peaceful and less irate. Focus should be on achieving ultimate satisfaction by eliminating the unhelpful desires within oneself, and fulfilling helpful ones. Focus means only doing certain things in accordance to a goal. Holding on is trying to preserve or make permanent.
Holding on is also different from protection. A great gift of this path is protection from evil. You start to not be as much affected by the evil of the world. You maintain a sense of peace through your own difficulties and the difficulties introduced by others. You feel less fear and instead stand firm in the face of danger. Not only will you internally be at peace with the hardship of the world, less hardship will be introduced to you altogether. This is what protection means. Holding on means trying to preserve yourself even though you are fated to perish. Holding on means stasis, lack of movement, a clog in the drain, a bout of traffic. The Buddhist path means pressing on through all difficulties, willing to deal with anything as best possible. The path means movement through our own fears and shortcomings not to inflict pain on ourselves but instead to face the truth of our own responsibility in suffering and therefore our inherent ability to quench it. Power rests in the ability to deal with and grapple with problems. Good acts are not busy work. Good acts directly combat the demons and evil within. You will feel less fear for doing this. You will feel more confident, more comfortable, and at ease for figuring out the good things in the world and gravitating towards them by trying ceaselessly the path, which can only result in triumph.
The Buddhist path can be expressed in many ways. One way is the Eightfold path. Another is “Do good, do no harm, and purify the heart.” The Eightfold path, in depth
- Right intention means aspiring towards good things. Any good qualifies. From helping a child through a troubling time to becoming a fantastic human being. The intention should always be to improve and to flower. Become more peaceful and knowledgeable about existence and the suffering inherent. Become more intelligent, wise, and compassionate. Strive to treat others better and do good deeds.
- Right understanding means knowledge of relevant phenomena. By relevant I mean pertaining to suffering or deliverance from suffering, nothing else. Though suffering is a wide topic, much does not qualify. Questions pertaining to the nature of the universe or laws which do not affect us are not valuable avenues of inquiry. Right understanding signifies reasons behind the path, like the transience of all phenomena and suffering as a erasable thing.
- Right effort means exertion. The path is tiring because promising avenues become dead ends, failure occurs moments before triumph, positive accumulations are swept away by moments of indecision and lapses in judgment. Effort means trying despite all that because eventually they will all go away with time and understanding. The path also necessitates effort because all action is driven by it. Effort is like fuel to a car, food to a body. The raw energy required for the path is enormous, as the path has to do with continual battle against evil within.
- Right concentration means focus. All available energies should be focused towards helpful actions. Lack of focus means many discordant things are happening at the same time. You may be trying to learn something from a past experience yet find it difficult to maintain the necessary thought time on a specific event in order to resolve the issue. Focus doesn’t mean narrow minded. The path requires fluidity after all. You must be able to connect specific events to larger truths and vice versa. The key here is maintaining a certain direction that has lots to with intentions.
- Right mindfulness means helpful awareness. By helpful I mean relevant to the path. At all times be mindful of your actions, their nature, and the consequences which transpire from them. It helps to think of mindfulness as broad and concentration as narrow. Though concentration means a one-track mind towards Buddhahood, mindfulness means a broad yet relevant observation of phenomena in your experience in the present time.
- Right speech means speaking well. Lying should be abstained from because lying hinders understanding of truth, which is necessary for well being. As long as we are deceived by false victories we keep thinking we accomplished everything we needed to even though we haven’t. We take a break even though evil rages within and destroys what is good. Honesty means never hiding from the reality of evil and therefore casting evil in light, a first step in understanding and eliminating evil.
Concord is a chief desire in the path. Speech that divides people or stains reputations should be avoided. Instead, friendships and unity should be cultivated by speech, and positive words should heal relationships instead of destroy them.
- Right action means moral behavior. Restraint in all areas of life is a must. Avoidance of overeating and oversleeping help tremendously. Sexual transgressions should be avoided. Any act which harms anybody should be avoided. Actions which cultivate knowledge of the Dhamma, Buddhist understanding and intractable Laws of the universe, should be done.
- Right livelihood means making an honest living. Abstain from deception and trickery when making money. Be productive in your money-making actions. Instead of taking, produce and contribute. Work with good intentions and seek to help people rather than hurt them.
Good deeds are like medicine. They heal things and enable other good deeds to work better. Any good action you do has several effects. One, you aren’t hurting yourself. Two, you help yourself in some way. Three, you get better at doing good deeds. Doing good is a skill that does not start perfected. People have to try and try in order to become adept at doing good. The situations we face are so variable and confusing that we must try many times in many different situations in order to notice the forces at work and the common threads that exist. The best advice here is to do and do and do. We fear often the consequences of failure and for good reason, but with good intent actions cannot hurt you badly enough to discourage trying them in the first place. As long as you are aspiring for something better and working towards the good you personally understand, any failure is just a lesson, nothing more.
At every level mistakes are made. You may be mistaken with general, overarching principles that affect every single action you do. You may be mistaken with particular actions for particular situations. Always look back to simplicity to clear up confusion. Look back at what you do understand, since the rest of understanding flowers from that seed. Protect the good in you, make sure it survives. The evil within you seeks to destroy everything good you stand for, everything good you know. With practice and determination you may overcome this evil with the very thing it seeks to destroy. Don’t take anything personally, focus on actions and their consequences. Understand the reason you do all this is for the pain, to heal yourself and spare yourself from continuing the immense suffering you’ve underwent and undergo now.
Even though Buddhism preaches peace nowhere does it support passiveness. People might call you passive for sitting still and staring out a window but don’t let that fool you. You are thinking. You are deliberating. You are finding out. Playing sports and doing other productive activities help, but don’t be fooled into thinking that quiet, contemplative solitude can’t work wonders. In fact, Buddhist history is filled with stories about people who turned to a contemplative life to solve their problems. Without all the hustle and bustle the forces within you are more apparent and oftentimes easier to deal with. Help is great to have, but help cannot do it for you. Solitude means letting all the issues we keep under wraps in public come out. Our faces contort, we make noises that are not agreeable, though such actions are not done to hurt anybody or harm anything. The evil within us is merely difficult and hard to deal with. Solitude offers a chance to be completely honest without fear of disapproval or retribution. Solitude means sheltering others from our own problems and focusing on them ourselves.
The path involves a lot of soul-searching and self-discovery. Parts about yourself you never or seldom acknowledged will come out full force. This does not mean they are new, merely that they are recently made aware of and discovered. Recognizing the evil within yourself is not doing evil. Being honest about the entirety of “you” is a purely good thing, and avoiding burdening others with that image is a noble goal. You can be honest yet secretive. Being honest means telling only the truth, not telling all the truths. Sometimes telling the truth about a particular situation isn’t helpful. Staying quiet might work out better. In other words, being honest doesn’t mean being revealing. Keep things to yourself that might hurt others if spoken about. Depending on the person, your fears and worries may actually be welcome news, an enabler for them to help you as they always wanted. To others, their own fears and troubles weigh on their minds, your telling of your own problems may only exacerbate their own. This is all subject to trial and error. Learning what situations to keep quiet and find solitude is a valuable and time-intensive enterprise. Many focus on issues other than the ones discussed here, so understand that disapproval doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong, it just means you are doing something someone else doesn’t approve of.
Solitude avoids many difficulties we face when dealing with other people because no longer do we have to devote energy towards what is proper but we may devote it words what is right. Being honest to oneself is paramount. Learning to be alone with others is also a great skill, especially in antagonistic situations. Like a turtle in its shell, you may protect yourself with knowledge of the Dhamma against the evil that’s directed towards you.
Doubt is a great enemy to you. Doubt is different from knowing something is wrong. Doubt means reasonless condemnation. Doubt says something is wrong even though no reason is provided. You feel what you’re doing is wrong just because, so you quit. Right actions happen in the light, through understanding. Yes, there is haziness and confusion, but penetrating that haze is never a wrong action. Paths consist of actions. Depending on the actions you take the direction of the path changes. Doubt is like saying all paths are wrong just because you don’t see them. Not knowing is not the same as knowing something is bad. Just because it is unknown doesn’t mean it will hurt you. A helpful countermeasure to doubt is backtracking to the moment you first felt doubt. Were the actions you were doing leading in the right direction? Did you doubt your actions because they were difficult or because they were wrong? Doubt does not have reason behind them. The purpose of these questions is to ascertain whether there is more than doubt there. Oftentimes on the path similar yet wildly different things happen at the same time. They mean completely the opposite yet they both take place. Just because you doubted something doesn’t mean its right either. The thing is doubt alone offers no information and is not borne of reason, so doubting is wrong. The legitimate concern doubting pretends to address is the simple question of whether the actions you are doing are helping you out or destroying you. For that, you must ascertain reasons and evidence, rather than rely on impulse and emotion. That is not to say zeal and enthusiasm are unwelcome, far from that. That is to say, however, that just because you feel bad about something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. In order to determine whether actions are bad you have to look at the intentions which gave rise to that action, the action itself, and the consequences which follow. Focus is important to determine consequences of actions because focus seeks to try single things at a time, thereby isolating variables and better enabling you to learn which actions result in what. The trials required to conclude the nature of certain actions much less realize them when they happen are voluminous. Many variables exist so many “experiments” must be conducted. The difference between experimentation in the Buddhist sense and experimentation in science is that experimentation in the Buddhist sense requires proper intentions. Scientific experimentation needs to goal, to help someone for example. Science includes helpful experimentation as well, as Buddhist experimentation is scientific in its execution, yet science also includes experiments that answer questions of no relevance to our well being or suffering. To be Buddhist means to all things towards the purpose of alleviating suffering and cultivating goodness. To that end, experimentation is necessary because experimentation is necessary to learn. Experimentation must maintain the positive goals of freedom and enlightenment to do good, otherwise you might find yourself purposely doing evil in order to find out how harmful it really can be.
Doing good is like sending troops to battle. Many die and most work best together. You are in constant opposition to evil, even if you don’t realize it. Evil is what distracts you from good goals and keeps you guilty about the evil you’ve done, as if you can’t redeem yourself. The evil within you will fight your doing good. The more good you do the less evil there will be, therefore the easier it will be to do good. As I’ve said before, doing good means you’re not doing bad, which doesn’t sit well with evil. That’s why virtues like concentration, effort, and mindfulness are required. Good is not easy to do nor is it weak. Necessarily you must become strong in order to sustain goodness. There is no other way but overpowering and outsmarting evil. You have to keep up the waves of soldiers through good actions in order to overcome the fear, doubt, hurt, worry, pain, anger, ill will, self destruction, and sadness inherent in our lives.
Loftiness doesn’t mean holiness. Whatever works is best. Sometimes loftiness means complex language which deciphers phenomena at first, necessarily needing simplification in order to be used during tough times. When negative emotions grip you and the world around you crumbles you need dependable, swift, powerful, and simple tactics to prevail. The chaos and cloudiness that accompanies evil hinders good. Loftiness cannot help then. The simplest words often hold the greatest meaning. Imbue the words you speak with the experience you gather. Other people might not notice yet nevertheless you language just became that much more powerful.
Loftiness also costs more. Loftiness means more complex, harder to understand vocabulary and more words. Simplicity is like a knife which cuts through all the unnecessary bits. Be simple in your life, be simple in your language. Loftiness does have a place in the path because initial understandings might require many many words and many complex words at that. The true master speaks simply because matters are understood, not still in their initial stages. Loftiness signifies the necessity of higher order thought, which abandons you in times of peril. You need basic, core-based methods in order to counter evil because evil first defeats your higher abilities to reason and contemplate. When the bullets are flying you must respond with bullets, not with letters of peace. Letters of peace have a place in a world where the bullets are not flying, just as loftiness has a place in a world where you’re doing relatively fine.
When you converse with others, friends, family. Find whether intellectual talk, or simple speech communicating the same principles has a greater effect. Buddha said one loving word is infinitely better than a million nonloving ones. Speak with purpose and weight rather than with the distance of purely intellectual complexity. We humans are made of more than brains, our hearts and our legs need more sturdy stuff than clever words, which may delight our heads. We should strive to communicate rather than simply be noticed. Words don’t do any good unless they communicate meaning. Unnecessary complexity only excludes people and yourself at certain times from understanding what you’re trying to say.
Loftiness also applies to more than words. Sitting down to meditate is a tremendously helpful exercise. Meditating to look like you’re doing something special is harmful to you. Whatever works should be the motto. A story of the Buddha said his first experience with meditation was watching a farmer’s scythe go back and forth. Breathing is an immensely helpful thing to focus on in order to cultivate concentration, mindfulness, effort and in fact everything on the eightfold path. Breathing is versatile. You don’t stop breathing until you die and you need to breathe all the time. You also don’t need any materials to breathe or a special place to do it. Focusing on the breath for one thing helps you focus. Additionally, focusing on the breath helps you understand the cavalcade of thoughts which want to occur but don’t help you when they do. They don’t have a particular direction and are rooted in impulse rather than love. Breathing also illustrates samsara, the cycle of life. For there to be an in breath there must be an out breath. For there to be an out breath there must be an in breath. And so the nature of samsara to keep going without a start or an end is evident, and will help you realize the need to stop samsara so you don’t have to breathe all the time!
Breathing also helps you be healthy because breathing is intimately tied with bodily rhythms and therefore important processes like sleep and heart beat. The rhythm of breathing is also peaceful. The repeated cycles sets the mind at ease and simplifies the world. The discipline of keeping the body in a meditative pose strengthens and sharpens the body and mind. The practice will teach you failure and the ability to improve despite of it as you return again and again to meditation even though you get distracted countless times by phenomena around and within you. You find that much of your mind is devoted to other things, and when you bring to one point, one unified task that you are at ease, devoid on conflicting endeavors. You also always have something to go back to wherever you are. Alone, anywhere, there is always time to breathe. That’s why people say take deep breaths when you are nervous. You do something you were always able to do. Not so hopeless or disabled anymore. Your brain gets oxygen. Your body gets oxygen. All at a stable rate. You become more at ease with yourself, understanding that your life is very simple after all.
Chapter two: Philosophical inquiries
Buddhism answers such questions as “who are we?” “where do we come from?” and “how did we get here?”
Who are we?
Change is the law. Everything you are must die. It can happen at any time. People are conglomerates of mental and bodily phenomena. Mentally, people can think, reason, deliberate, choose, all the time reliant on practice for variable ability. Mentally, people can also feel emotions like anger, hate, and sadness. All these mental abilities and feelings are variable, meaning they change. You may have felt so sad one time that you thought you would be sad forever. Even that sadness has change within it. First there is a cause. Some kind of trigger took place, be it visual, auditory, or emotional. Then there is the sadness itself, a feeling of disrepute, weighty, tiresome. After that there is an end to sadness and the beginning of something else. When someone refers to “you,” they are referring to an ever changing process action. Oftentimes “you” in conversation means some particular action you did, or a particular quality you exude. What is you continually changes. You aren’t the same now as you were before, in any measure of time. Every action you do changes who you are. The way you walk, the way you dress, the way you move all changes every time you act sometimes slightly sometimes greatly. Humans also have bodies, made up of limbs, a torso, a head, a brain, and organs. Depending on what you do, your body also changes. Good practices contribute towards a healthier body. After a time the body runs out of steam, and there is nothing you can do as it dies.
Your actions determine who you are. You bodily actions contribute towards your mental actions and your mental actions contribute towards your bodily actions. It helps to think of yourself in terms or verbs, because you are completely in motion. Your heart is beating, your lungs are contracting and expanding, your brain is alive with electronic activity. The better thoughts you think the better actions you do. The better actions you do the better thoughts you think. Thoughts guide actions while actions do guide thoughts. Speaking well and doing good means a peaceful complexion, one gives rise to another. A strong heart and strong determination means a strong, sturdy body. Your body and mind are intimately connected. Mental anger means bodily stress. Mental relaxation means bodily relaxation. An anxious body means an anxious mind. A disciplined body means a disciplined mind. Uprightness is a Buddhist virtue. It means you are honest and unafraid to face the fears and evil within. An upright person coincidentally stands straight and tall, strong and stable in their devotion to the Dhamma. Illness is an inevitability, though it does not have to be welcomed. We all go frail and perish as time progresses, yet we choose how we go frail and how we die. Like going to battle with eyes forward and back straight, we must face inevitable changes with strength and aspiration for understanding.
Humans also have the mental ability to contemplate and think deeply of phenomena. We can think theoretically in grand terms, discussing matters like love and death with words which signify deeper meaning. Humans also have the mental ability to love and care for others, which reflects itself on our bodies by providing calm strength. Strengthening the body also requires strengthening the mind, because strenuous activity requires mental virtues like endurance, effort, and focus.
In both the body and mind different levels exist. Just as there is an ability to reason deeply and contemplate weighty matters, there is also the ability to acknowledge the minute, moment-to-moment phenomena which greet us all the time. Another illustration is in the process of sight. Rudimentary mental functions would record the image, while more advanced functions would interpret and perhaps draw lines between the image and memories from the past, or overarching principles and ideas in circulation at the time. All levels have to function smoothly in order to achieve success. Just like an athlete must not only move their legs but also think about where they’re going to go next, a Buddhist must appreciate not only the deep lessons in life but also the countless examples which made them possible and reflect them.
The general and specific are important ways of looking at the necessary measures people need to take on the Buddhist path. On one hand there is the general idea that good needs to be done and harmful things need to be dispelled. On the other hand there is the real issue that these overarching, general principles are made possible by individual, specific instances. For example, dana, or giving, is a powerful way to accumulate merit and therefore well being in life. However, in practice, dana is really a very multifaceted idea. There is the giver, the thing being given, the receiver, attitudes and intentions of the giver and receiver, the cost of the thing being given, and much much more. The actual manifestation of dana is really a very involved act. Yet the general impulse to give something you call yours to someone else contributes a great deal towards realizing love and happiness in daily life. The answer again here is trial. The general idea forms the guidance for specific actions necessary to carry out the broad recommendations Buddhism gives to its practitioners. The myriad problems and difficulties which arise from carrying our general ideas necessarily mean only that people don’t start out perfect. The nuances come with practice yet the general idea can be strong from the beginning.
Sometimes reflection upon the most basic ideas, even urging yourself to keep trying or recognizing that goodness is in fact good for you, may be the best thing you can do for the moment. At other times, working out the details required to execute the generic good ideas you have is the best thing to do. Sometimes you get them mixed up. Recognizing that in the first place is a very good thing.
The discussion of who we are boils down to the Buddhist rejection of static language and framing when talking about human beings and life in general. The guiding truth here is that there is no one thing which identifies you as you. The phenomena which comprise you are varied and ever changing. They interact together and fundamentally determine your well being, but they are not images, they are more like a stream or an ocean wave. The nature of your parts depends on your actions. A sinner can turn to a saint. What is weak can become strong. There is no other determiner of you than your actions. With good actions come a healthy body and a healthy mind, even though everything changes and perishes in the end.
A good metaphor which describes the Buddhist idea of what makes a living being is a body trainer starting out. At first there is the trainer, however strong or weak they are. They change their diet to include more protein and more carbs so that their body has the materials needed to grow healthily and properly in the training process. Then comes the training, where lifting weights with the arms helps out the entire body since the heart beats stronger and the lungs labor for breath. Blood flow improves, posture improves, different areas of the body are emphasized for different days. The person’s mental will becomes stronger as over and over they think to stop but the initial impetus for their training reminds them to keep going on. They learn about themselves and know when going to far is going to far or when they’re being lazy. Nowhere in the picture is anything still. The person changes according to their actions. If you look at anybody, learn their story, you’ll see that our lives are marked by change. Larger descriptions might remain the same, such as skin color, eye color, etc…, but everyone grows older as long as they live. In fact, people are born in certain places to certain families of certain races and certain wealth. The inescapable reality that all beings end, that their bodies become no more, is a central meditation in Buddhism. Starting with the obvious helps illuminate the uncertain. The fact that our lives are meant to end illustrate the smaller changes that are always going on, be it the transitioning of friendships and the ending of friendships, or even moving from one city to another. No matter how constant the characteristics of an individual are maintained, their death and old age are inevitable. Every recommendation in Buddhism is meant to help people. If a path of difficult inquiry leads to discomfort, the discomfort might be the only thing to blame, you may be asking just the right questions. The reason for fear and agony when looking at death is that much of our priorities exist in a world that does not exist. We plan to live forever, even though that’s not the case. We see the next prize as the last prize we’ll ever want, even though that’s not the case. Our priorities sometimes center solely on the continuance of life rather than well being, which includes eating well and drinking well. Thinking about these matters is difficult but necessary in order to expose the fantasies we maintain. After they’re exposed they go away, because they rely on our believing in them to exist. Stresses and worry sometimes come from seeking to control the uncontrollable. Just because there’s always change doesn’t mean that change has to be bad. Our actions can guide certain changes the way we want them to go. We’ll never be able to prevent our dying but we can prevent fear and anguish at death.
Many hurtful interpretations of Buddhist thought contend that all human drive is bad, that all majority thought on the value of life and the benefits of caring for the self are invalid. The urge to become a better individual is still an urge, and one encouraged by the teaching. Yet one has to recognize the limitations inherent for a living being. The goodness and badness within us exist side by side, often hard to distinguish. We’ll think something that hurts helps us and something good for us actually isn’t. We cancel good paths based on attributes that don’t necessarily mean something is good or bad. We’re left with the result that we cancelled our own good efforts that might have saved something from going wrong. That’s why instilling in yourself the truth that anyone anywhere can eventually make it is important. No matter what you do you can keep trying, and that trying will produce lessons, and those lessons will make you better at trying and help you walk the path. The final goal for any Buddhist is to end the continuance of life. That’s why many interpretations will make that out to be a Nihilist or life-hating practice. Buddhists value the flowering and health of people as much as anyone. The only difference is that the root cause of pain in life is identified not as the failure to live forever, but the failure to understand the inevitability of death.
For the cause of improving your lot the actions you do are not all bad or all good. Many times multiple things are going on at the same time. It’s best to focus on one thing. The nature of action is that any one action has many components. Even the simple task of walking has many parts to it. Besides moving your legs you have move your torso so that you stay balanced. You have to look where you’re going so you don’t bump into anything. All these actions fall under the umbrella of “walking.” So focusing on one thing can seem to be a contradictory idea. In fact, many Buddhist ideas are. The reason this is a philosophical inquiry is that often opposite statements about the world are true. A good example is the permanence of change. If the only consistent phenomenon in the world is change, isn’t then consistency also present? What helps is to couch all theoretical discussions in terms of real world needs. Never forget that the path is meant to solve concrete, pressing troubles. If you find yourself pursuing the path in purely theoretical means, you’re missing out on its potential to make you a happier person. Words are one thing but their meaning is another. On one hand Buddhists believe that you should take care of yourself first and foremost, on the other, Buddhists believe that helping others is a necessary practice. In action, both statements make sense because the practice of dana involves understanding the idea that you should give what you should give. Giving too much means you’re hurting yourself, which doesn’t help. Giving to someone who doesn’t need it as much may not be as good as giving to someone who needs it more. Sometimes you have to take of yourself. Sometimes it’s best to take care of others.
Additionally, even though the goal of Buddhism is an end, there is still the requisite journey to get there. In order to journey well one has to take care of themselves, even in the face of inevitable decline. It helps to think of the path as a means to an end. All these ideas we’re discussing don’t matter once they’re realized. They’ve served their purpose, just like a bandage once a wound is healed. There’s no need to keep around the bandage, and once you’ve achieved what all Buddhists hope for, there’s no need even for the teaching itself.
The best way to resolve contradictions is to keep in mind the purpose of all you’re doing. Even with the best of intentions you have to start out somewhere. A beginner and even the most advanced both make mistakes doing the best they possibly can. The path is one of gradual improvement. The mistakes you make in pursuance are excused because your intentions were good. Those mistakes do have concrete impacts; it’s just that you’re not responsible for them in the same way. Even if you fall off, and do evil things on purpose, you can always get back on track. In fact, this is what you start off with, the bare essentials. You find the most useful idea is the idea that you can always try again, because often you stop trying altogether. We expect too much of ourselves when we expect always to intend well even when we’ve done the opposite many times. Forgiveness is key because you have to love yourself enough to get back on track when you’ve fallen off, or you just end up hurting yourself more. Continual refinement means continually differentiating between good and bad based on experience. Nothing else will give you what you need; everything else is just a guide. Balance consultation with trying things out yourself because all this is meant to deal with real issues. Lives are important because they are not tied to any fate. They can improve and flower even from the worst places. Far from condemning the power of humanity the Buddhist doctrine preaches is humungous potential for positive change. When facing things for the first time things get difficult. You’re dealing with unfamiliar issues and realizing some of the worst parts of yourself. Rejoice that you can change with your effort and your effort alone.
There are many similarities between illegitimate and legitimate ideas. For example, longevity is a key illusion which posits that effort should be devoted to lengthening one’s life. Lengthening one’s life is a helpful activity. We have more time to think about things in this life and are able to continue one story for longer. Health is also important. One illusion is that health needs to be preserved, when in reality, health has to be protected. The key difference is that preservation is an impossible prescription in a world where people inevitably grow old. Protection is possible because the attitude and goals are different. Protection means doing what you can to ensure the survival and continuance of something. Protection doesn’t lead to stress. Protection means loving yourself and recognizing good efforts and good paths should be maintained in the face of the evil even within oneself. Protection deals with things that grow and prosper while preservation deals with statues and fixed things, illusions. Many things are similar between protection and preservation. Both seek to counter opposition forces which seek to destroy the object being preserved or protected. Yet both vary in attitude and desired outcome. Protection desires something to continue, move, prosper. Preservation wants something to stay the same, unchanged. Yet you can preserve with good intentions, because prior experience might have pointed to preservation as something good. After all, you can intend for some beautiful object to stay the same out of appreciation for its goodness and rarity. In this way, multiple things are going on at the same time, and the only way to get things aligned is to refine actions over time.
Everything has to improve for this path to continue. A jug of water is filled drop by drop. A mile is walked step by step. Understand that this path has an end. We call it enlightenment, nibbana, attainment, Buddhahood, and many other names. The point is at this point there is no worry, fear, anger, ill will, pain, needs, wants, troubles, anything. At this point everything is completed and there is nothing more to achieve. Finality is an important concept because it always helps to recall that there is an end to this desire to improve yourself and your situation. At some point nothing can hurt you anymore and you can’t hurt anything. Your life will be one of supreme peace and well being. There is an end, you simply have to keep on the path and keep getting back on when you’ve strayed. There is no such thing as too far or too hard because no other goal will result in an end. As long as we are in this situation things just don’t quite get resolved. There’s always something more to do, more to get, more to see. Get to the bottom of things and dig deeply. Over time, things will get better even though the upward trajectory isn’t consistent. Everything depends on you, so you go where you choose to. There isn’t anyone else that can take dreams or goals or aspirations. True, there are bad environments but even those are not invincible. It’s a war and a fight because you have to be willing to press even though you’ve just taken heavy losses and experienced a lot of failure and heartbreak. Trust in imagery of things rising up from hard places to salvation, of coal turning to diamond under pressure, of even night turning into day. Intractability is an illusion. Hopelessness is false. You are the master of your own destiny even though some things are not up to you. Terrible is the pain we suffer. Terrible is the cycles of rebirth and life and death for we who haven’t realized the truth and settled down to rest. The agony and hardship can be settled once and for all. You don’t have to look to breaks and time off for the only reprieves in life. All that pain and worry can go on forever once understood for what it is. Stay strong and forever remember the impermanence of things.
Where we come from
The Buddhist view of existence is that of cycles. There is no end or beginning. The point of the path is to break the cycle so one does not have to continue on the loop. Death gives way to life and life gives way to death. There is nothing more in the cycle of life. The loop goes on and on and on. Lifetimes are like grains of sands on a beach, innumerable and continually growing and continuing.
The situation we’re born into results purely from the nature of the actions we committed in the past. Good deeds mean a good family, comfortable living conditions, a good area. Bad deeds mean the opposite. Karma is the idea that beings answer for their actions. There’s no such thing as a “free pass,” though things might not be as bad or as good as they’re perceived to be. Karma involves purely the intent behind action. Without intent there is no karma. This makes sense when thinking about the markedly good or bad individuals in your life. What makes a good person good isn’t the recognition they receive but the heart and well meaning they exhibit. Intention involves many aspects of life yet is never fake, meaning, convincing yourself you mean well isn’t the same as meaning well. Karma deals with the actual regardless of what people tell themselves they’re actually doing. Even crimes as great as murder, when done accidentally, bear no karmic fruits and have no consequence upon the individual doing the accidental deed. In this way, reality is not like a strict parent or judge that seeks to find wrong with you. The substantive makeup of your actions determines your fate, and since actions happen in the present, your fate is always changing depending on the actions you do. This is also why Buddhists espouse the notion that sinners can turn to saints. Though bad deeds result in conditions which encourage bad deeds, like a group of bad friends, good deeds are possible even though they are harder to do. Starting off is always hardest because you’re at your worst. As you progress the conditions you face change with the deeds you’ve done, making it easier to practice and attain full enlightenment. This is also why helping out people in bad situations is immensely good. They find it particularly hard to do good deeds. If they make it out their gratitude is that much greater.
There are problems at every economic level of existence. Some people are better off than others; some people are worse. The fact remains that station is fluid. Based on actions you go different places. Actions are the sole originator of a living being’s place in the world. Many myths exist regarding the need to bring justice to murderers. Their own deeds are their downfall. Courts aren’t required since the places such beings operate punish them already. The universe takes care of that. This makes sense when you look at people who’ve earned their wealth justly and those who stole or otherwise transgressed in their earning endeavors. Criminals live in fear, simply said. They must look over their shoulders and worry because they cause the same to others as part of their business. The people they hurt have friends and family who seek retribution and would readily do the same to them. The nature of their business entails their shaking down as much as them shaking others down. It’s like a shark in a swimming pool of sharks. Sooner or later they will eat one another. Honest living brings its own joys. Producing instead of stealing means regardless of how others view what you’re making, you become better yourself. The simple act of making something requires an improvement in oneself, and over time, those deeds add up and make you a good one.
The humbling thing about the path is that doing less crime might be the extent of effort at a particular time. The most you can do is prevent yourself from doing a worse crime and doing a lesser one. It’s always hardest at the beginning, for when you’ve built up steam on some good path, your old ways crop up and abruptly end what good you were doing. Disheartening to say the least, but remember, starting anew is the name of the game, and you can always reflect on the simplest goodness you know.
The nature of life is a sobering one when you think about it. The evil we do simply wins out at times. We get hurt. A friend or family member gets hurt as a result of what we do. There isn’t any forgiveness on the part of laws or Karma. What you do is what you do. What you put in you get out. Even if you realize your wrongdoing the moment before the wrong comes back to you, there is no escape. Samsara, the cycle of existence, is a cage, and the path is a way out. It’s easy to understand how hard life can get when you reflect upon the ways evil actions tend to add up if they’re not actively prevented. It’s as if evil has gravity on its side because it’s easier to do. Good is an uphill battle. Stealing is easier because you don’t have to make it yourself. The greater the things you steal the greater the effort required to make those things. It’s like taking a farmer’s crops after days and months of hard, grueling labor. There’s no wonder why such crimes bear rotten fruit.
An interesting question about Karma is if people get what they deserve, aren’t criminals stealing from people who deserve it. Actions are individually done. Different phenomena also mean different things to different people, and mindsets are paramount. For example, someone stealing food for their family from a shop that’s doing fairly well probably isn’t that much at fault. On the other hand, someone well off taking from people who’re scraping by has much to worry about. The crux of karma is the intention of the action. Seeing someone poor or weak as a target is in itself a karmic act. Intention is the root of action, far from an incidental aspect of it. This is why even fooling yourself that you’re doing good does not protect you. If your actual intentions are bad, your actual intentions are bad. There’s no way around it. All we can do is act anew in a better way. There’s nothing that can be done about the past besides learning from it in the present. Think of these matters in simple terms and try not to overcomplicate. Wishing well isn’t a hard thing to notice. It simply means wanting things to go well for living beings. Overintellectualization is detrimental because it superficializes fundamentally earthy and simple things. Making things complicated puts them out of reach to you. All that does is make it more difficult to excel on the battlefield of good vs. evil. Parse down flowery language and find what’s actually being said. Oftentimes people spend hours writing what would more aptly be expressed in a single sentence. The purpose of language is to communicate. If used to muddle up, language will just hurt you.
How did we get here
The origin of life is desire. We want something and so our wishes are granted. We enter a world where things are wanted yet when they’re acquired they don’t ultimately satisfy. The only desire that’s right is an end to this so we might experience complete freedom.
Chapter three: Bad deeds
Confusion reigns in a world where things are not so clear cut. People steal for their families so their children don’t go hungry. People think they don’t have the options they have. Sympathy in the Buddhist doctrine means understanding the desperation and anguish which often accompanies decisions that lead down the wrong paths. In the end bad actions lead to pain, and bad actions happen only because of misinformation. If people knew the bad actions they do could have such catastrophic consequences they probably wouldn’t do it. When I say know I mean really know. It’s not enough to be mildly aware because the visceral impulses of the world are stronger than that. To do good in Buddhism is far from a weak endeavor. It’s far from an easy way. There’s as much toughness and hardness in the path as any criminal one. The struggle to do good will leave you hardened in the right ways, immune to the insults and jeers the world throws at you. Many times you are alone in your convictions and many forces seek to dissuade you from doing what’s ultimately good for you. After falling off the wagon, the same forces which pushed you off will try to convince you you can’t get back on. These stretches are infinitely magnifiable. One stint of distraction can last for years, lifetimes. Every time you recover you get that much better at recovering and walking the path.
Many times confusion runs so deep that badness and goodness seem to be the same thing, or not significantly different. What’s the point? People ask. My life is this way and it will be forever. I know people made it out of the same situations I’m in but those people are rare, and I’m crippled and disabled in a way that prevents me from making meaningful change. This is why the path is more of a war than a walk in the park. Tranquility and calmness are not as important as diligence in determination to get out of whatever bad situation you’re in. Sometimes you grit your teeth and squint your eyes. Sometimes you cry out of frustration and at the evil you see in yourself. Life moves forward though, and time spent trying on this path might not bear visible fruit until years later. Death is less scary when you’re trying hard at something good. We think we should be perfect right away from the first moment we realize something we’re doing is wrong. There’s a reason wrong things appeal to us so greatly and many do those things repeatedly over lifetimes. Easiness is an interesting term. People say evil is easy but it’s not that easy if you recognize its implications. People say good is hard but it’s not so when you know firsthand how powerful good can be. Changing direction, getting out of tight places, learning from defeats, all Buddhist tenants. They form the core of what Buddhists believe. Every meaningful idea has something to do with things that heal, grow, and free. The allure of evil is an illusion. Doing it might result in good feeling but they only last for a time. They get harder and harder to achieve and require greater and greater sacrifices. Ignoring the horror of a situation doesn’t make it go away. In fact, closing your eyes to darkness only lets it grow unhindered. Any act in opposition to dark forces is a noble act and praised in this world and every other. You’ll find that many things surround goodness and badness that you didn’t first realize. The difficulty of practicing this path is the very reason you do it in the first place. Something’s wrong so any way that will fix it is a way that has to be taken. There isn’t very much lightness here because reality isn’t so light. The knocks and hurts of life aren’t trivial nor flippant. If you wish to rise you have to go against gravity, not because good is inherently harder to do than evil, it’s because the evil predilections within you weigh you down like a giant weight. Evil is like a cancer that seeks to spread and consume everything of life and goodness within you. The mentality of a soldier is necessary to weather the disappointment of continual defeat at the hands of evil forces of your own creation. You have to develop an absence of regret so that you can move on from the horrors you yourself have done so that you can start in a different vein. The challenges only grow lighter but don’t go away until everything’s done. Arrogance sometimes accompanies this path because of the visible, real gains you make a result of practicing the good deeds and generative actions discussed here. Avoid that because if you’re not done yet you fall back down like a rocket that quit thrusting upward into the air. Very often you have to do the same things over again to reach heights you’ve already reached. Pride and foolery are just more things you have to learn to combat, but being combative won’t help either.
Fighting gets a bad rap because people associate fighting with violence, which are two very different things. Fighting just means acting in opposition to something. If the opposition is evil, rather than people, you’re doing alright. The problem develops when we conflate the two. Evil people don’t actually exist. The nature of being a person means choice reigns supreme in the realm of action. Yes, continually doing evil hardens a person’s character towards doing evil. But in the Buddhist realm all this means is that salvation is simply more of a challenge for this particular person. It is always harmful to harm another person because life always has the potential to improve. Taking that away from someone is an evil thing. Generating this body we live in is a difficult enterprise. Our mothers must carry us in their bellies for months. Years after that we rely on others for food and protection so we can grow to earn it for ourselves and others. Every criminal in existence needed such protection and care to grow to who they are. If they didn’t receive this they simply don’t make it as a matter of biology and the reality that we need food to grow. Destruction of life means destruction of effort and love that someone put into literally someone’s body so that they might survive and grow. Sympathy for people who do wrong can be most easily understood when realized that survival in itself is difficult business. So many ailments afflict every life form and acquiring the materials necessary to survive is a difficult enterprise. People work very hard and devote much to themselves for the meanest, most simple needs. Violating that is a cardinal sin, not because someone else will condemn you, but the very nature of such actions bring with it as a matter of certainty death and destruction wherever it is expressed.
Evil deeds are like traps. They are cycles of despair. Every evil deed makes it harder to do good because evil by nature is like darkness. Every time you do evil you are making unclear what is clear, dark what is light, empty what is full, bad what is good. Evil functions on the premise that things are not what they are. Evil will say that construction is destruction, and vice versa. In this way, it’s harder to do good because what is good and bad is in itself muddles every time an evil act takes place.
This is why you must grow outward from whatever light you find. Treasure that because it’s like a baby that yearns to grow and flower. Even if you decimate it look for something like it again because there’s always something like it. Far from condemning life, Buddhists understand that the inherent evolutionary urge to adapt and streamline is a good one, so avoid condemnation of everything that’s life.
Refinement is an essential practice. You must discover what is good and bad about larger actions. Some aspects of actions are worthy while others are destructive. For example, within the larger idea of giving, giving food and other such things are not the only transaction taking place. There’s also attitude, or the manner you gave what’s commonly held valuable by beings. If you give reluctantly, that reluctance can overshadow the physical giving of materials. The action is a net negative for you, even though the thought to give something of yours to someone else is a generally good impulse.
Additionally, there’s always a time and place for every action. Nothing really exists in a vacuum. You interact with the things around you. We simply can’t exist without things other than ourselves. We need plants, animals, etc… to function as human beings. Appropriateness is not the same as approval. Approval is an opinion while appropriateness is a fact. Is what you’re doing proper for the time and place you’re doing it in? Could you do what you’re most capable of doing somewhere else for better results? All these things have to be considered in order to avoid triggering evil when initially seeking to do good things.
A clear example of good intentions going wrong is interacting with people who a lot of evil. That alone isn’t enough to make you do wrong. It’s just that the evil within you resonates with the evil outside; just like the good within you resonates with the good outside. You do have to learn how to shelter yourself from negative forces as well as seek better environments to do good things. Seeking a better environment makes it easier to do good so at times you may be lulled into a false sense of security. Everything though is variable so often places change in their nature just as a matter of seasons changing in a year. You do have to prioritize what you do based on the location you’re at because different force are at work. Sometimes the most you’ll be able to do is prevent yourself from doing bad. This is a noble act. Even if you’re capable of doing great good, the fact remains that evil places bring out the evil in people, just as evil people bring out the evil in other people.
Defense is as important as offense. Prioritizing might be as extreme as letting the leg go in order to save the heart. At other times prioritizing might mean reading a storybook instead of singing a song because the kids in a classroom might better benefit from a book than a song. These diverse situations happen all the time, even in the same day. We live varied lives with many different experiences and chapters so one thing often doesn’t work everywhere. It helps to think of goodness as general to specific. Every good action will have a good intention. That’s general. Every good action though doesn’t happen with words. Some good actions happen silently, even away from the people affected. That’s specific. Every action will have general and specific qualities. There’s always a specific time and place an action takes place. There’s also always a general impulse behind every action. Both levels, the general and the specific, need to be taken care of for an action to be good.
Evil often feeds on good, meaning, a good intention might not pan out, so an evil thought might be everything about this action is bad, when in fact, the action just didn’t work out. That’s fine. The problems that can happen are too many to name. The important idea is to not give in to the voices of condemnation and judgment which exist within you. They do not contribute anything. Instead, rely on sight and impartial view in order to understand what’s really going on. Sitting on a high horse and laying down opinions does not produce anything or make anything. All that is is a reflection of an expectation to get something for free. The only way people can judge other people is if they expect that other person to do good for their sake. One, this often happens without doing any good for the person being judged. Two, everybody is only obligated to themselves. Duties to the self are wildly different than duties to others. The self does come before other people. This is because only you do your actions and answer for your actions. No one can do anything for you so they don’t have a right to judge. Additionally, you judging yourself only hurts you because judging is an illusion of sight. Sight means looking at something and interpreting it for what it is. Judgment is seeking out something wrong and only emphasizing that. Arrogance is the opposite and is equally detrimental because it only emphasizes the good, allowing evil to continue in the darkness of blindness. Seeing both sides is crucial to acting in a holistic light. When you only see one side, the other deteriorates. Practice an impartial eye so you know what’s going on so you can act on good information. Bias has no place in a good action because it distorts the world. What bias does is block out crucial information necessary for an informed, well directed action. Needed gravely is an absence of condemnation, false praise, judgment, and meanness when dealing with yourself and dealing with others. Certain things should be in a certain way, but not seeing. Actions should be good and not bad, but what you see should be what it is, good or bad. Save all the one sidedness for the intentions behind your actions. Save all the evenness and unaffectedness for the visual, sensory aspects of life. Deeds are no place for nonchalance, though sensing the world is in a certain respect.
One respect in which sense should be biased is towards the end of relevance. Much information exists through our eyes, ears, nose, touch, smell, mind. However, only some of that information helps at any given time. Therefore, seek to be mindful of everything pertaining to the path, rather than everything everywhere. You want to focus at all time on progress and meaningful change, rather than on unfiltered curiosity. There is always a real need to improve and become better because pain and suffering awaits otherwise.
Recognizing an evil deed from a good deed is difficult at times. One example of this is exercise. An athlete often experiences immense pain as a part of training. Muscles are being torn apart and put back together, the body is growing and pain results. Pain alone is therefore not a signifier of evil. Going against the grain is naturally a painful act even though it isn’t always. Growing pains is a phrase for a reason. Any change requires discomfort because of unfamiliarity. The process of trial and error has pain inherent within it. The trick is to not desire the pain or the absence of it. As long as it’s apart of the path then rejoice that eventually you’ll be better able to deal with the pain and recognize legitimate pain from pain brought upon by anger, ill will, destruction, and hate.
Many times what’s good in one place is detrimental in another. Speaking your mind is a great thing to do. Honesty is a virtue. Honesty however doesn’t require you to speak, only to abstain from lying. Keeping silence might be the best thing you can do in certain setting. Sometimes people use honest statements to get at you and to find your weakness and to hurt you. Keep silent as a manner of loving kindness to yourself in those situations because people will not always want to hear the good things you have to say nor value them once you’ve said it. Wasting energy in hopeless situations is not advised. Instead, take care of yourself because that’s the best you can do. Sometimes you are powerless in the face of other’s people’s evil, yet never powerless in the face of your own. This is solely because you are responsible for the evil you do and not at all for the evil others do. Improving yourself is a possible act while improving others certainly is not. Even the most powerful, most loving human being cannot change another person. The most that person can do, and indeed considerable in its own right, is help another and change the environment another lives within. We can hug and we can embrace but we cannot go inside another and do things for them, just like no one else can do the same with us. Rejoice in solitude for you have supreme power in any matter concerning yourself. You can change anything in the world about you even though you are powerless in the same regard with even the most beloved other.
Evil deeds have several consequences. One consequence is the visceral impact of a wrong action. It’s like driving towards a destination and then veering off to the side, disorientation and initial understanding of where you’re going gets harmed to some degree. Another consequence is losing good momentum. Every good act you do paves the way for another good act, misdeeds disrupt that process. Yet another consequence of wrong action is making it harder to do good again. Starting anew is harder than keeping something going. Misdeeds break good drives and eviscerate good flows. Additionally, misdeeds can break good processes before their completion. It’s like completing three years of a four year degree and dropping out. The degree itself is much more valuable than the year it would take to complete it, yet failing to finish out that last year still prevents someone from receiving any degree at all. Also relevant is the inherent value of doing three years of a degree. The threat of misdeeds preventing the completion of a specific goal is a serious one and shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, even incomplete good actions still have value of their own, though completing the action would have disproportionately greater value. Completion is a most valuable enterprise, and misdeeds can steal the achievement even mere moments from crossing the finish line.
Continuing with the idea that negativity clouds and muddies vision is that misdeeds act like black holes. Once consent is given for a misdeed, a series of downfalls happen before you catch yourself. For example, if watching a particular show is bad for you, saying yes to watching it has the power to distort further judgments of whether that particular show is bad for you. The force at work here is evil’s ability to make what’s unreal seem real, and vice versa. The cumulative effect of misdeeds mean that over time it gets harder and harder to change direction. This is why most reawakenings happen after an extended period of bad decisions. Things get bad enough to where even the weakest eye hampered by the most powerful murkiness may distinguish pain-causing phenomena from ones that heal and nourish. It’s best to engage in preventative measures because initially is the best time to abstain from wrongdoing. The required turnaround is made more difficult the further along the wrong paths you progress. Evil is like a siphon or whirlpool, it’s easier to avoid getting sucked in before you even make contact with the downwardly swirling current, rather than when you’re already in the thick of it. This is why measures like triage is important. Triage is the term used in warfare by doctors where more hopeful cases are dealt with in order to make the most use of available resources. “Too far gone” is a relevant term here. Much like almost reaching the very bottom of a whirlpool, or already being in the iron grip of an enemy, realizing the truth when it’s too late means focusing on bracing yourself and resolving to do better next time. Appreciating the gravity of a situation is no weakness. Fooling yourself with a better outlook than the actual only serves to squander valuable resources that might be better used tomorrow, if today is in fact too far gone. Giving up is never the answer, even though measures disturbingly close might be the most effective in tough situations. Priorities have to take into account individual ability in adverse circumstances, and tomorrow will always come, even if today is most horrible.
Evil clouds reality to such an extent that nothing seems to make sense. The world is turned upside down and confusion reigns. What to do what to do. The reason behind diversity and different examples of the same truth isn’t to fill space. The reason is that if one idea gets compromised, other ideas might take its place. For example, you might get the wrong idea that a mother’s love for a child is generally wrong because she’s attached. But if you have several examples of love, like a teacher’s love for their students, or sister’s love for her brother, then you can compare and see that attachment may be bad, but not the entirety of the relationship. Examples mean backups and failsafes. Many times vagaries just happen. Preparedness means learning many versions of the same idea, many examples for the same phenomenon, many different ways of saying the same idea, many ways of learning the same thing. If you prepare beforehand, you’ll find that when one ship goes down, another will take its place. The virtue of good things is that they want to live. Evil can’t make anything on its own. In this way trust things that grow and produce for themselves, because bad things don’t do that.
Evil deeds don’t offer any suggestion of their own nature. There has to be another measure taken in order to recognize them. Darkness can’t be fought with darkness. Something else has to take place. Oftentimes starting fresh has to happen at times when it’s either not worth keeping with the same track or it’s impossible to. This is like triage. You have to cut your losses in order to do the best for yourself. Sometimes it’s not worth sticking with the same idea; you just have to move on. Ego is an enemy here, because even during good causes you may feel the need to prove yourself when results are all that matter. Hard work and dedication mean respecting limitations and understanding the need to make the most of your effort. If you recognize something as beyond repair don’t bother fixing it. The reason fixing things that are fixable is good is because they’re easier to fix than make anew. You always have the option to start over. The only caution is not giving up too quickly, or giving up because you don’t want to face adversity.
I know, many things are contradictory. First you shouldn’t give up. Second you should know when to give up. The spirit of things means there’s more to the truth than words and logic. There’s always the intent, even if the words can’t communicate all that clearly. Life prioritizes intention over everything else. The specific expressions of intentions are secondary, because they can be produced again by intention alone, while the reverse isn’t possible. Words of love can’t cause love; only love can truly cause words of love. Words are valuable because they incite things and order chaos. Words are a tool, nothing more. Even valuable, words have limits. Life can go on without words yet words can’t without life. Understanding dependence is key to prioritizing, because you’ll find yourself in situations where you have to choose between the word and the intention behind it. The wordless aspects of Buddhism reflect the importance of meditative silence. Solely focusing on the breath is an experience that can happen with or without words. Words are valuable in that they can condense and concentrate meaning. They’re not the only mechanism which does this, any symbol fits the bill. The ambiguity of words isn’t necessarily a fault of language, only the user. Words like anything can be used for good or evil. In times of confusion it may be helpful to refer to certain phrases or words that you’ve imbued with experiential knowledge. For example, words like “Buddhism” and “love” said during the right times can do much good. Often we do not need that much to reverse a negative scenario. A little push in the right direction may be all that we need. The fundamental value of things rests on their ability to contribute to the path of enlightenment, freedom, goodness, and well being, nothing more. The path is purely instrumental. If something doesn’t help then it has no value. Of course, anybody can be mistaken. The point is that adjustments have to be made purely for their instrumental value. If something doesn’t help, move on. There is no such thing as sacred in the sense that something always brings the same effect no matter what. Different things help at different times and some things help more than others. Learning this is a part of trial and error and everybody makes mistakes. Oftentimes you might find yourself far along on tangents that have to value to you. Recognizing that and starting over on something else that might be more helpful is most noble indeed. Every time you change for the better you’re working the muscle that recognizes unhelpful things and starts helpful avenues of adventure. Time is needed because experimentation means messing up at every level of inquiry before getting even one thing right. We all start off in different places. That doesn’t mean the path is easy or hard. All that means is some have more to go than others. The same virtues work for people of all levels. Needed is the humbleness which accompanies recognition that a cage exists for any who are not complete in the goal. Needed is the willingness to try for an end to anger, ill will, sadness, and pain in life. The path is suitable for all situations because no situation bears importance if it does not pertain to pain or its end. Many questions and answers exist for the unrelated, unhelpful areas of life. Inquiry for inquiry’s sake may work the muscle of inquiry, but inappropriately focused inquiry can be dangerous. We walk down paths no matter what course of action we take. Ensuring that path is meaningful and responsive to our worries means continual self-reflection and simplifying the complex into the easy-to-understand. As human beings, the power to reason and engage in challenging inquiry is an ability inherent to the race. No matter the station a person can start improving their lives by their own power without any help today.
The darkness of evil is nothing easy to deal with. The very nature of our troubles signify a certain stubbornness towards removal. We may think it easy to go down certain paths, but the ends only bear more discomfort and dissatisfaction. This is the crux of the noble truth saying craving leads to suffering. No matter how far down the road you go with bad aspirations, the road doesn’t end. The beauty of the Buddhist path is that the path has an end.
Chapter four: Details and Illustrations
The Endless Knot
The Endless Knot illustrates the codependence of religious and nonreligious parts of life. The knot also symbolizes the union of wisdom and compassion in the Buddhist teaching. In pursuit of anything good, arrogance is a dangerous nemesis. Be it smarter, faster, stronger, improvement in human terms often brings with it inflated heads and venomous pride. Being versed in the Buddhist teaching is half the battle. One has to practice it. In practice, compassion is necessary in order for wisdom to flourish. This is simply the case because learning requires stability, and stability depends on love. Love is more than preference. Love means working for the betterment of something, devotion of life’s energies towards the improvement and flowering of phenomena.
The knot’s illustration of the codependence of wisdom and compassion marks the importance of everyday good events. The union of religious and secular affairs makes proficiency in both higher-level and lower-level thinking a must. Not only must you be able to engage in reason and deliberation, you must also engage in visceral goodwill towards other living beings. This means caring for the sick, weak, poor, anyone in the world. Thinking is not enough. Action is required in the path just as a body is required for the mind. Excellence means taking care of both the physical and mental aspects of existence. Not only must you study the world you must also physically flourish within it. The evil, smart person is only so wise. All good things evaporate in the presence of evil, and wisdom is no different. Without goodwill, the engines required for the formation of wisdom do not churn. Just as important as books are the necessities for the physical body, for the physical body is the home of anybody. Knowledge alone cannot save one from starvation and illness, both of which are healed by the visceral good feelings of love and goodwill towards others and oneself.
Both help each other. Wisdom will point towards the goodness of compassion and compassion will point towards the beneficiality of wisdom. Though ultimate wisdom is the only requirement for the completion of the path, compassion is a requirement on the path towards this ultimate wisdom. Without love there is no camaraderie, food, water, and shelter, all dependent on other living beings. Though Buddhists value immensely the practice of solitary reflection, all beings are dependent on other beings for life. Even in the extreme example where after birth no other human being is present, even the plant life and animal life which form the source of our food would be required. Compassion does not only mean an individual loving others. Compassion also means the rewards an individual earns for practicing it. Without compassion we do not receive in turn a mother’s care when we are helpless as an infant. Without compassion we do not enjoy the liberties of a clean, harmless environment. Dearth of compassion means the ghetto, hard and oppressive towards the goals of Buddhism. Though salvation is possible from any starting point, compassion is a requisite practice so that conditions improve.
Conditions don’t mean dependence on pleasurable things. Conditions mean the barriers to practicing Buddhism. Conditions mean how many people around you love you and desire your empowerment and well being. Without compassion wisdom is impossible because wisdom depends on the flourishing of life. You must have the time to learn in order to learn. Without compassion the requirements of life are not achieved, and distractions make it difficult to achieve.
Wisdom itself depends on more than external conditions. Wisdom develops the way anything develops. Wisdom needs food, patience, and time. Without all three nothing good can happen. Food means everything from literal food to the books and movies we consume. The ideas of others also counts as food. Without compassion nothing flourishes because compassion is required for things to grow. Compassion is the support, the soil, the nutrients, and oxygen of life. Hate withers thing. People can be hateful and wise because compassion must be maintained, or else negative practices take their place. An absence of action is not possible by nature of law. As long as we have not realized the ultimate freedom of nibbana we continue to act for the craving inherent to us as living beings. The origin of life itself is a want. That want in itself is an action. That want further means actions for it’s sake, if will is not exercised for another want, like the Buddhist will.
The endless knot means that one has to combine wisdom and compassion in order for positive aspirations to succeed. Compassion gives birth to wisdom and vice versa. This is because to love means to cause things to grow and prosper, and what more prosperous characteristic is there than wisdom? Wisdom precedes compassion because knowledge of the law means an understanding of compassion’s necessity for even the meanest of essentials. Without it, nothing grows, and all lay stale like a desolate desert. If one is to succeed, the most simple acts of love must accompany the more esoteric pursuits for higher wisdom. Without one, the other does not survive, though individually each might improve. Compassion protects wisdom, and wisdom protects compassion. Protection is needed because both are not the only presence along the path. Everything must be dealt with in time, and until then, evil affects all.
The union of religious and secular affairs run very similar to the union of wisdom and compassion. Secular affairs involve occupations and keeping the house, synonymous towards one’s duty to one’s body. Religious affairs involve pursuits of higher wisdom and reflection upon Buddhist ideals. Secular affairs make religious affairs possible the same way a body makes possible the mind. The experiences we gather depend upon a functioning body. Survival is necessary towards the goal to learn and achieve happiness.
The union of religious and secular affairs can also be seen in the interaction between monks and the lay community. Monks do not buy their own food or keep their own kitchens, but for water. Instead, the lay community is tasked with the culinary requirements of the ordained, and the ordained are tasked with the religious education of the lay community. These are written in Buddhist laws so that one does not grow apart from another. A practical reason could also be that monks may focus on religious improvement rather on occupational obligations in the way lay people are. The union is convenient because both specialize in their own valuable areas which complement each other. After a day of hard word, both may meet and share the fruits of labor, each valuable to the other.
The focus on completeness is important because incompleteness means failure. Without all the necessary parts, the whole cannot survive. Only experience will lead to the necessary understanding of this concept yet awareness of this phenomenon is key. It’s not possible to make it without aspiring for proficiency in all the necessities. The endless knot is an illustration of Buddhism’s dependence on both ends of the sophistication spectrum. The most refined, lofty ideas cannot survive without earthy support. We all need to eat and that fact is not escaped by even the Buddha during his time. Scripture emphasizes Buddha’s quality as an actual human being. The laws of the universe spare no one, and all may prosper within them.
The middle path is a central tenant of the Buddhist teaching. Majjima Pathipada is the pali translation for “middle path.” The middle path means moderation in actions towards the goal of enlightenment. It also means that in order to achieve enlightenment, one must exercise moderation in all things. This doesn’t mean setting the bar low. This means the process for the highest goals of life requires moderation to succeed. Not too much and not too little. Expending too much effort means being tired too quickly, or even damaging your own resources for improvement. Expending too little effort means opportunities are not fully realized, and you go through more hardship than you have to.
An illustration of the middle path is a tightrope walker. Their art requires them to balance their weight vertically on the rope do they do not fall to either side. If they lose their balance they have to regain it quickly before they fall altogether. In this way, the middle path is what you should do even if you do not do it, like all recommendations in Buddhism. None of these ideas are meant to make you feel inadequate for not doing the right things because we can all get on the right track. The results of not doing or doing the path are simply set in stone. The laws of the universe ensure people answer for their actions. Justice is inherent to life. Karma means you reap what you sow. Buddhist thought is meant to guide people on the right destiny that they make themselves. It would be wrong to expect anything of you because only you are responsible for your actions, and only you reap their consequences. I personally am affected by me, no one else. If I was strong enough no evil in the world could do me harm. You affect others only in ways they allow you to, and vice versa. Strong individuals are not affected the same way others are. Your actions are your own determiners, no one else’s. You are the architect of your own life. Your house is as sturdy as you make it.
The Dhamma Chakra or Dhamma Wheel
The wheel symbolizes the nature of existence to never end over the cycles of birth and death which go on and on. The eight spokes represent the eightfold path which brings liberation from the circle of life.