Monday, February 1, 2021

Beginners guide to understanding Buddhism


One of the key things that Buddha taught us was about attachment (anicca), and how that attachment creates desire to hold onto things, and when we can no longer maintain that hold it creates suffering (dukkha).  There is a misconception that Buddha believes we can only grow through suffering, what he was trying to say that our false preconceptions of what is useful or valuable to us causing suffering because of our attachment to something.

For example, we may desire a new phone (doesn't matter if we need it or not, the desire is present) so we buy a new phone.  We give ourselves lots of rationales like I deserve it because I worked hard last week, all my friends have one so I don't want to get left behind.  Temporarily it brings us happiness as we can join in with our friends, we get to play with new buttons.  However the happiness is impermanent, we may have had to take a new credit contract to purchase it, and now regretting it, the dog may slobber on it and break it and thus the cycle continues through to suffering.  It was the desire, not the phone that brought about the suffering, the desire for something that would bring temporary happiness.  Yet we find ourselves blaming the phone, that thing that is just plastic and electronics that you didn't even need in the first place, you just desired it.

However, when we become aware that things are temporary and constantly changing (impermanence) we accept the temporary happiness and enjoy it while it is with us.  We are grateful for that time.  It is not the impermanence that creates the suffering, it is our attempt to cling to something that is ever-changing that causes the suffering.

2020 created the greatest level of change many of us will ever see in our lifetime.  It taught us that life truly is impermanent as friends and family became ill and sadly passed, often without the ability to grieve properly.  Jobs, businesses, friendship groups have all been tested to their limits and some have fared far worse than others.  Buddha also taught us that people do not have a fixed self or soul and are constantly changing (Anatta) and again each of us has transformed in some way during the last 12 months because we are not fixed.

He talked of the four noble truths:

  1. There is suffering, this is inescapable and to think otherwise is foolish - Dukkha
  2. Suffering has a cause, be it physical, emotional, or due to false attachment - Samudaya 
  3. Suffering can come to an end - Nirodha
  4. There is a way to bring suffering to an end - Magga

The idea that there is a cause for suffering is explained by Tanha, 

  • craving things that please the senses
  • craving to be something you are not
  • craving to stop experiencing something

But we're back to the idea of attachment because everything changes that chocolate you crave today will taste different tomorrow and you may also be cursing the change that the weight gain gives you.  Your cravings change, your body changes, your needs change, and to grow attached to something that gives short term benefit may lead to an attachment or addiction which in itself will cause harmful effects. He then spoke of the three poisons 

  1. greed or desire (cockerel)
  2. hatred or anger (snake)
  3. ignorance (pig)

Budhha believed that people get trapped into these cycles and that the poisons are linked to the cravings or Tanha.  Craving something you do not possess leads to greed and perhaps anger at not being able to have something.  It is also to ignore what you need and replace it with desire and thus the negative cycle continues.

By living in harmony with the four noble truths and recognising that life does indeed constantly change, as do we within it and accept it we begin to take control of our own lives.  Living in the present is about accepting what we have, not what we desire; value the body we have, not desire to be something we are not.  If we are unhappy about something then we need to look inwards and see if we are not poisoning ourselves by false attachment or expectations?  I for instance will never be a 6' glamour model and there is absolutely no point pretending otherwise!

Nibbana is a state of freedom, happiness, and peace or enlightenment.  It doesn't mean you sit in temple praying with monks for hours in contemplative silence, it means you are living in the present.  Content with what you have, valuing the ever-changing world around you, and accepting that if suffering is present it will not last.  Change is the only constant and Buddha asked we be mindful of the eightfold path to allow us to get closer to eliminating the poisons that hold us back and cause suffering.

It isn't easy right now to always think kindly, act with good intention, and be grateful for what we do have.  Many are experiencing struggles they could never envisage 12 months ago so it is important we are grateful for what we do have and offer support to those that may need it.