Here is my personal one-page summary of Buddhism (I don't necessarily believe or follow everything I've written below):
As we live, we all feel every possible human emotion, both positive and negative. It is impossible to avoid negative emotions. As we live, we all feel every possible level of pleasure and pain. It is impossible to avoid pain. Just as we are all born, so we must all die. Everything dies, and everything that lives changes during its lifespan. Nothing is permanent -- everything we love will change and everything we love will eventually die.
Nevertheless, life is worth living, even though much of the time we are unhappy ... and there are ways to feel more satisfied with life. There is more to life than pain and grief. There is also joy.
In addition to physical pain and negative emotions, living beings also suffer. However, suffering occurs only in the mind, only as the result of particular kinds of dissatisfied thoughts. Suffering is what we feel when we are unable to satisfy our desires. Suffering is what we feel when we can't achieve our goals. Suffering is what we feel when we are unable to control other people. Suffering is what we feel when reality doesn't live up to our expectations. Suffering is what we feel when we don't want to experience pain or negative emotions. In order to reduce suffering, we must learn to be satisfied with all things -- ourselves, other people, social institutions, nature, the universe, and our pain -- as they are, and as they change.
The trick -- is to learn how to reduce our expectations. It seems natural for people to strive for more than they need ... it seems natural for people to believe they need more than they already have ... it seems natural for people to try to avoid pain and sadness ... it seems natural for societies to strive toward "progress" and "reform" and "a better life for our children." It sounds wrong, at first, to give up striving, goals, expectations, and desires. It seems natural for people to believe that the path to happiness is to follow our desires.
But Buddhism teaches that following our desires is a trap that leads to suffering, not a path to happiness. Buddhism teaches that true joy results when we are satisfied with all things as they are, knowing that all things will change in uncontrollable ways.
Buddhism provides an eight-step pathway to joy. The way is not necessarily easy or foolproof, and the way will not remove negative emotions, pain, unwanted changes, or death from our lives. However, the way will reduce suffering, and increase joy.
The first step along this pathway to joy is to understand the true nature of life -- to understand that life is full of pleasures and pains, changes and endings, none of which can ultimately be avoided. This understanding of the true nature of life includes an understanding of our interdependence, that our actions affect others as well as ourselves. Some people call this understanding "karma". Although we can't change the true nature of life, we can learn, over time, to modify our own behaviors so that we don't cause as much pain and suffering for ourselves and for others.
The second step along this pathway to joy is to make intellectual commitments to reduce our cravings and expectations, and to treat ourselves and others more kindly. We are imperfect beings, and we will make mistakes, and we can not change the true nature of life. At first, the best we can do is try to understand the true nature of life and try to treat ourselves and others with more understanding and compassion.
The third step is to monitor and change our speech. To speak only truthfully to ourselves and others, to enable us to see the world and ourselves as we truly are -- because the root of suffering is wanting things to be other than they are. When we speak as though we want things exactly as they are, we do not lie, we do not slander, we do not criticize, and we do not engage in know-it-all gossip about current events.
The fourth step is to monitor and change our behaviors -- avoiding killing, stealing, intoxication, and sexual assault. In nearly all cases we do not need to engage in these types of behaviors to survive. When we behave in these ways it is a sign that we have not reduced our cravings or expectations, and when we behave in these ways we create pain for others and ourselves.
The fifth step is to find employment or livelihood that is aligned with the above principles. A job in which one is not required to kill, exploit, or assault other living beings. A job in which one may speak truthfully. A job in which one may treat others with respect and goodwill. This can be a difficult step, because we all need a way to provide food and shelter for ourselves and our loved ones. However, many of those who take jobs that violate Buddhist principles do so because they have not reduced their cravings and expectations. Principled employment often does not pay as well, but principled people do not "need" as much either.
The sixth step is to make a continual effort to follow the above steps. Buddhism is not like a cap that you can put on in the morning and then forget about. Buddhism requires a continual effort, especially because it seems to be human nature to desire more than we have, especially because it seems to be human nature to treat others without understanding and compassion. To follow this path requires an expenditure of energy every day.
The seventh step is to cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means living in the present moment, paying attention to our surroundings rather than our internal deliberations, paying attention to NOW rather than memories of the past or dreams about the future. Many Buddhists practice regular mindfulness meditation. It does require practice, and a continual effort. It seems to be human nature to dwell on the past or dream of the future. Sometimes living in the moment hurts, or is boring. However, when we are not living in the present moment we are not appreciating ourselves and our surroundings as they are.
The final step is to intensify concentration. This step goes beyond intention, effort, and mindfulness. This step requires concentrating on the sensations we feel and the conditions we observe around us. It is a combination of intent, effort, and mindfulness aimed at deepening our experience of life as it unfolds around us. In this final step we go beyond not wanting, beyond trying to behave with kindness, beyond paying attention to NOW ... in this final step we learn to love ourselves and everything around us as is.
[Previous entry: "Integrity and Lies, and Reputation"] [TOC] [Next entry: "Memetic Insomnia"]