It's episode two of Everyday Buddhism. I'm glad you could join me. I hoped you joined me for episode one. Today, I might ramble a bit. I don't know. I have a million things in my mind. I have a few notes. But I'm trying to cover a lot and I'm trying to put it all together ... and it might not all go together. So, I hope you can cut me a little slack and sit back and enjoy. And if it feels like it's getting too deep, don't worry because I'm going to introduce some Buddhist concepts today that if you're not used to them—if you've never had any experience or been introduced to them before—it might seem like I'm digging a little too deep, getting a little too Buddhists-y for you, but it isn't going to be that way. I'm going to relax a little bit and show you how it applies in an everyday way.
On the first podcast, I promised you that there were going to be tools coming from Buddhist teachings that would help make your days better. I hope you put some of what I mentioned last episode into practice. I spent some time discussing one of the most important tools you can use in daily practice and that is looking inside, looking in your own mind for the cause of all the things that bother you or make you unhappy. But before we get deeper into this episode, I want to share another important tool. You can use it as a quick takeaway. Last episode was “Be an Insider” … Look inside. This episode I want you to think about “what is my why?” About a year ago I posted an article on LinkedIn. It was titled, “Have You Lost Your WHY in Your How’s?”
In it I discussed the importance of always remembering your why. Always keeping your why front of mind. This is as true for organizations as it is for individuals. Businesses face a significant risk if they lose sight of their core purpose or lose sight of their main customer. in their preoccupation with new processes, new products, new solutions. And, as a career coach, I immediately identified the fact that my clients lose their why and then it's a critical risk for them, in being successful in their career goals. Many clients come to me convinced that they have only one or maybe two driving needs. They say, okay, I want a better resume and a great LinkedIn profile. These clients come to me from all stages of the career management life cycle: Unemployed and searching … about to be unemployed and searching … Looking to move up … Recently graduated … Or at a major life and career transition.
Yet, each one tends to seek out a career coach or resume writer for a product: resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, bio. But career management, like most things in life, is a process … an exploration, a journey, not a product. And the career management process, as all processes we deal with in life, needs to start with that question. Why? Asking why is essential in understanding what drives our actions. Do you know your why? Working as a coach, the whys are as important to me as the how’s in understanding and partnering with my clients to make sure they're making the right decisions and positioning them as strongly as possible to succeed in their goals. Until you can understand why you do what you do, you can't possibly understand how you do what you do. Those who understand their natural motivators are far more likely to pursue the right opportunities for the right reasons and get the results they desire.
I know we're talking about career here and this may not be something of interest to you, but this applies in every way. Knowing your whys, understanding what is really driving you will help you be aligned with that purpose every day. As a professional behavioral analyst, I use assessments to provide an objective measure of a client's why’s and a client's how’s … why, and how they move through the world. I use a combination of values and motivators assessment and a behavioral and communications strengths assessment to identify my clients why’s and how’s. The values and motivators gets at what drives a person … what makes them tick … what makes them motivated to do something. You're not going to do anything unless you're jazzed, unless you're motivated to do it. I know you have to clean the house, you have to make the dinner and wash the dishes.
But from a worldly pursuit, spiritual pursuit, a mission, a calling, there's an overarching value motivator thing, as well. You need to understand what it is that will get you moving and what it is that will keep you interested in the process, so that you will get better and better, and better and better at it, until you actually become successful at whatever it is you're trying to do. In my practice of career coaching and behavioral analysis, we identify seven different dimensions of motivation. We produce a detailed analysis of those motivations and personal drivers, so this really helps me help them achieve their goals, by checking to make sure they know who they are and that the goals they're choosing, and the way in which they're going about the goals, are closely aligned with their motivating factors.
But not on this level of career coaching or behavioral analysis, but on a more granular day-to-day or situational level, looking in our minds before we speak, before we act—and asking why—can help prevent a lot of problems. And zooming back out to a wider perspective, you can ask what your big why is. Not necessarily the values and motivators that I discussed in working with goals. But what is your big life why? The why we are here why? I don't mean looking for the answers to the big cosmological and theological “why are we here?” But more about revisiting what gives your life meaning.
If we regularly familiarize or refamiliarize ourselves with this question, we're more likely to wake up each morning and go to bed each night with a sense of peace. This is my why. What I'm doing here.
You know, I believe I began growing into a Buddhist from a very young age. Beginning with childhood nighttime visits from someone I called a wizard, who presented stacks of books and said he came to teach me wisdom. I think he was my imaginary childhood friend. Then, continuing through a lifelong fascination with watching the way the mind works, I have been examining my mind ever since I can remember, in an effort to get to know and understand this sort of elusive self.
You know, Socrates struck a kindred cord to the great Buddhist masters and teachers when he declared that the unexamined life is not worth living. And it was 40+ years of that examination that brought me to complete confidence in the Dharma, or Buddhist teachings, and its capability for creating happiness—not just for me, but for everyone.
So, my mission, my big why, my big life why, my why for this podcast is to share the teachings and methods of Buddhism, the tips and tricks I talked about, with as wide an audience as possible. You know, I think many people feel as though their lives can't be changed … or they have no power … or that maybe their lives haven’t really begun yet, like they're waiting for just the right conditions for that magic thing to happen … or maybe they feel that their lives are already over.
How do you feel about your life? Is it motivated by a big story, something bigger than yourself and your own little, ego-driven, perceived wants and needs? Or is it motivated by an authentic becoming in loving kindness and correct view? The Buddha offered his followers an opportunity to become part of a big story. Being part of a big story is the answer to the big why. It's a story of how our afflictions are met with a noble response. Think about that. I'm going to say that again. It's a story of how afflictions are met with a noble response.
I think far too often in our culture we have the accepted attitude of complaining about our afflictions. I call it a whiny environment. I don't mean that we need to have a stiff upper lip, it's okay to acknowledge pain, suffering, discomfort, displeasure, but whining about it and saying, “my day is worse than your day” … and “That happened to you? Well, this happened to me…” That's not a noble response.
A noble response is a story of how our internal energies, which sometimes can feel so destructive, can actually be transformed into a power that can create happiness and remove suffering, in ourselves and everybody else. So how can we accomplish this transformation? Like I said in the last podcast, through our own minds, it's our mind that will free us. It's our own mind that causes us to be angry, to be sad, or to be peaceful, happy, and content. This is exactly what the Buddha taught. He started teaching with the Four Noble Truths, and when I say that word “noble,” I'm saying noble like night like kingly, distinguished, sophisticated. Noble, in the way that I was talking about, in the last couple sentences.
Instead of having a whiny response to life, let's have a normal response to life like, “Okay, I'm going to take this on exactly as it is. Okay, I'm going to do this.” Not whining, not being a frightened of it, not I'm giving up … but having a noble response. The Buddha taught the Four Noble truths. That's what Guatama Buddha discovered when he sat under a tree and meditated about what this life was all about and how each of us could possibly make it better.
The Four Noble Truths are these: Number one, the unenlightened life is suffering. This is what I was talking about last week, that life is suffering. The bad news of Buddhism, as I said. Yet, a better translation of the Sanskrit word, Dukkha, or suffering, is really “difficult” or “unsatisfactory.” I think we can all accept that life is difficult, it can be very difficult, and it can be unsatisfactory at times. That's pretty much the First Noble Truth. I think most of us can accept that.
The Second Noble Truth is that the cause of this difficultness, unsatisfactoriness, is craving, attachment or grasping. If you like something, you want to grab it, possess it, keep it forever. This is what a great Lama referred to as” “Attachment is where the mind sticks.” This stems from an ignorance about the nature of reality. The nature of what it is that really makes you happy. It's not generally the thing you're grabbing it.
Number three, The Third Noble Truth, is that the cessation of Dukkha is possible, or the end of this dissatisfactoriness. That we actually can have a life that doesn't feel like it's full of this mucky dissatisfactoriness. This end the Buddha referred to as liberation, or Nirvana, or enlightenment, a bliss and inner freedom … or maybe we can talk about it as having a clear mind.
The Fourth Noble Truth is that the way to the end of this suffering or the way out of this dissatisfactoriness—he already promised that, yeah, you can get out of feeling this dissatisfactoriness, and he says, okay, there is a way out, and this is it. It's called the Eightfold Path, which is the backbone of the practice to achieve happiness for each of us. This is where I would say the rubber meets the road, Dharmically speaking.
The Buddha didn't awaken to the fact that life is unsatisfactory, sometimes. No. He also awakened to what causes it and the fact that we can rid ourselves of it. He also found out how to do it and he taught that. Pretty nifty, Huh? There's a lot of common sense in the Four Truths, as in all of the Buddhist teachings, and I think many people, Buddhists and non-Buddhist alike, would accept the basic premise applied in the four truths. The premise that, if you know and accept that there is a problem, you have to first find out what caused that problem before you can try to fix it. Pretty simple, pretty common sense. Otherwise you might spend a lot of time doing the wrong things or the wrong activities, wasting time, wasting money, trying to fix the problem based on a faulty understanding of the cause. In business and in engineering, this is referred to as a root cause analysis.
On a personal rather than universal level, the first practice is to look at what might cause your own particular flavors of unsatisfactoriness, uncomfortableness, pain, or whatever. Everyone's different. Some people are haunted by fear and some people are haunted by insecurity. Some people are filled with anger and some people won't rest until they have all the power in the world. There's all sorts of uncomfortableness and sometimes it doesn't present itself as uncomfortable, but presents itself as a thing that's good, but it causes you distress in trying to get it. I honestly think many people don't even try to look at what it is that causes their uncomfortableness. You know, they either bury or repress their own personal suffering and the suffering of those around them. They don't even want to think about it or they accept as a lousy natural condition that can't be changed, you know, because life is indeed shit and then you die.
But let's look further. Let's examine what this suffering or dissatisfactory stuff is made of. That's what the Buddha said. He said we can do this. Buddhist stuff is such a downer, isn't it? Really? Not only does Buddhism focus on suffering, but it actually classifies and categorizes the types of suffering, and if you get too deep into Buddhism, you'll find that it classifies and categorizes pretty much everything. But the classifications of suffering as taught by the Buddha is that there are three basic types of suffering:
One, the suffering of suffering. This is a pretty obvious suffering, right? This is what most people equate with suffering, actual physical or emotional pain, illness, injury, loss, grief, or even disappointment.
Then there's, number two, the suffering of change. This is the fact that your body, mind, and all the people and circumstances of your life constantly change, or as it seems, sometimes, attached to every pleasant experience is a lousy end … whether it's the last of the cookies, or the death of a pet or a family member, or the loss of a job. It's all made of the same stuff.
And the third categorization of suffering is the suffering of conditioned existence or pervasive suffering. This is the suffering that results from having a condition or a nature that is impermanent and changeable, based on the conditions that brought our bodies and minds—all phenomena and all circumstances—into existence. It is our conditioned existence that causes the process of aging and dying and that begins at the moment of conception. Or as I like to joke, the cause of death is life. It's the nature of our existence, but hey, we're all in the same boat. But there is a silver lining to conditioned existence and it's found in this Fourth Noble Truth. Everything comes from the conditions that bring it into existence. Every being, every phenomena, every reaction or experience is a result of whatever causes it. Do you still see the silver lining yet?
It's this: Change the conditions, change the outcome. If the causes change, the result will change. Now, this is the good news of Buddhism. It means what we all know. Pain does eventually end, sadness does eventually end, because the world, our lives, are made of change. Change always brings an end to anything, so there's going to be an end to the bad and then a switch to the good, as well as the other way around. This brings us to the Fourth Noble Truth: the way out, the path to the end of suffering, which is the Noble Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path can be ordered or grouped into three categories. Here we go … categories again! They are Wisdom, Ethics and Meditation. Pretty easy. Nothing you need memorize. This is pretty common sense. Just think about it and it's going to start to get familiar, as you think about it and use it in your day. Wisdom, ethics and meditation.
There's an eightfold path to getting out of suffering. Certain parts of it are made of wisdom, certain parts made of ethics, and parts, meditation. But it is the wisdom part that is the main support. Without wisdom, the whole thing crumbles. Let's go on to talk about the word “path.” Sort of like I talked about the word “noble.” It's not really a path, as in first I do this and then I move to the next step. It's not a linear list, but a circle—a holistic system designed for the strength of all the components together. The structure of a circle is probably best understood by thinking about the “wheel of Dharma” or what they call the Dharmachakra, the wheel of transformation. The Dharmachakra is used by all Buddhist traditions as a symbol of the path presented by the Buddha and his teachings, or Dharma.
This Dharmachakra, or Dharma wheel, is composed of a hub, a rim, and generally eight spokes representing the eightfold path. The hub is a symbolic representation of moral discipline or ethics, which provides the support needed to stabilize our mind. It's easy to understand how morality or ethics is necessary before a stable meditation or mindfulness practice can be established. If you were lying, stealing, or cheating on your spouse, your mind would be in a constant state of agitation, making it difficult to establish the proper ground for a meditation practice to grow.
Then there's the rim. The rim represents mindfulness, enabled by moral discipline that in turn contains and holds together the eight spokes or eightfold path of practice. So again, you see the structure of the three categories of wisdom, ethics, and meditation, as I mentioned earlier. By applying this whole structure to your life as a unified whole, you can transform yourself from a suffering being to one who is liberated from suffering.
The eight spokes of the wheel or the eightfold path are:
Number one, right view;
Number two, right, intention;
Number three, right speech;
Number four, right action;
Number five, write livelihood;
Number six, right effort;
Number seven, right mindfulness;
Number eight, right concentration.
Remember I talked about wisdom, ethics, and meditation. The first two are grouped under the wisdom category. The next three, under ethics, which is right speech, right action, and right livelihood. And the last three, under meditation: Right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Contemplating these eight practices, you can see that without the first, right view, the rest would be difficult to accomplish. How can you possibly know what right intention, or right action, or right effort is, if you don't have the correct view to begin with? Right view yields right intention, right thoughts, right action, yet they support the others, as spokes on a wheel.
For the time I have left in this podcast, I will focus on right view first. Let me talk about the word “right” again. Right, not as in versus wrong. Right, as in seeing things clearly, which is our goal. So, from the most basic perspective, right view is a clear understanding of the Four Truths. If we have a clear understanding of the Four Truths, then we also have a clear understanding of the way things are. We will see things as they are, without the filter of expectations or hopes or fears. The ability to truly see things as they are—truly, absolutely—means we have wisdom, which is not necessarily intelligence. In our culture today, wisdom is not something valued, but intelligence is. You know David Brazier, who wrote The Feeling Buddha, says the Buddha would say that all views are wrong views, and I agree.
This is a warning on how dangerous opinions can be. They are dangerous to myself. They're dangerous to others. They're dangerous to those of us trying to practice a spiritual path. If I'm attached to an opinion, then it will inevitably get in the way of clear perception of both subjective and objective phenomena. We all know how dangerous views and opinions can be. People come to blows over them. Cooperation between people break down over them … Getting upset and taking what people say to us personally causes unnecessary suffering and clouds the mind.
As David Brazier continued to say, it is “a case of a fire being caught by the ego wind.” That's what views and opinions due to us. It's this flame of grasping to an opinion, blown by the wind of our ego. In the Zen Rin, which is a collection of two-line poems of Zen wisdom, it says, “be one who sleeps well undisturbed by true and false.”
Let's think about that a bit. Right view avoids both relativism, at one extreme, and dogmatism at the other. If we approached life with an open and dedicated mind, we would experience the Four Truths. Right view enables us to see clearly and feel deeply, but we must be alert because we are playing with the fire of ego, our own and others. The suffering in the world is not something to solve on our own. It's all of our concerns and we can only respond to our own and others' suffering with right view, a view that doesn't hold on to opinions, the view that doesn't seek escape or disguise the existential reality of our lives. David Fraser said again, that when we have the courage to live life as it is—no longer running away—then we experience a profound relaxation in our heart. We have put down the burden and no longer have to live defensively. Essentially, this wisdom is a renunciation.
Renunciation in Tibetan means “authentic becoming.” It does not mean, necessarily, living in isolation from the world, but a renouncing of the delusions in the world that keep one from becoming one's authentic self. It means giving up clinging to the appearance of things, as something or someone ‘out there’ happening to you. It means instead of grasping tightly to the things that will only cause us suffering, clinging desperately to things as we would like them to be, we surrender—not passively, but with wisdom—to things exactly as they are.
What do things look like? These things I keep talking about, they look a lot like what was described in the Prajna Paramita, which means perfect wisdom. The Prajna Paramita Sutra means the verses of perfect wisdom. In that Sutra, which is central to the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, you will find the beautifully written wisdom of the “Eight Similes”:
“Regard this fleeting world like this:
Like stars fading and vanishing at dawn,
like bubbles on a fast moving stream,
like morning dewdrops evaporating in blades of grass,
like a candle flickering in a strong wind,
echos, mirages, and phantoms, hallucinations,
and like a dream.”
If we could really see life as it is, it would look like that. Life is not as real, solid, permanent, and unchanging as we think it is. Actually, life isn't any of those things: solid, permanent and unchanging, nor are we. Yet, we are conditioned to see ourselves, others, and everything in life like it is solid, permanent, and unchanging. You know, at some level we all do know our lives won't go on forever. Our loved ones won't be with us forever and we won't always get along perfectly with our partners, friends, and families. We won't always have perfect days full of sunshine and we don't always get to eat the meals we love.
Yet, we behave as if all of that is true and are continuously disappointed a little bit when it doesn't work out that way. So we get up every day with that same expectation. And, if you believe in other lives, we continue another life with the same expectations. These expectations are attachments. They are the root attachments of all other attachments, and they are what created our conditioned existence. And what blocks our right view.
To have right view is to cling to nothing that you associate with as yourself and your life. If you clinged to nothing, there is nothing that you can't deal with. If you cling to a star, a bubble, or a dew drop, you'll be disappointed. That is the absolute truth of reality. In Buddhism, we refer the two truths, the absolute truth and the relative truth. Relative truth is the belief that you could hold onto a bubble and keep it for yourself, like you try to hold onto your youthful appearance, or your reputation or your money, or your family.
The absolute truth is that you cannot hold on enough to keep anything forever. Yet we all continue to try, in some desperate, neurotic belief that if we try hard, believe hard enough, it'll make it so. I'm not sure, but I think it was Einstein who said, “insanity is when you keep doing the same things, expecting different results.” I think that is generally how we live. That is the nature of conditioned existence. But if we remind ourselves that the things we think are absolute are really relative, then we will be less likely to attach to them. So what are these things? My meditation tells me it's everything. Everything we cling to his real: Self, things, houses, jobs, health, relationships, systems of government, politicians, religion, absolute truths, and on and on and on and on. The biggest of all these is the attachment to the illusion of self.
We are attached to the self, because it is the most real thing we know. It feels very much like something permanent and non-changing exists within us as our self. But if we look closer, if we meditate on who this self is, we find it's not easy to clearly identify and point to the one self. Sometimes we see our self as our body. Sometimes we see our self as emotions, sometimes as the mind.
In Chapter one, verse one of the Dhammapada, it says, “all that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts. It is made up of our thoughts.” So we all know that our thoughts change constantly. So does our body, so, too, our emotions. So, which is our self and when? Right now? Today? Last week? Tomorrow? When you were a child or only when you were an adult? Where's your self?
Who is listening to this podcast right now? Having this experience? Is it the same person who had a terrible day at work and felt trapped and depressed? Is it the same person that went for a walk, even earlier in the day, and felt free and happy? Which one is yourself?
Actually, it's not any of these, but maybe it's all of them. If you're at all familiar with Buddhism, you probably have been exposed to the concept of “No-self” or Anatta. Anatta means that rather than being a fixed independent thing, we are much more like a process, and a relative process at that. We all know that most of our concepts are relative, even if we cling to them as absolute. The concept of the self is no different. Everything about yourself is in a constant state of change and it is composed of many different changing things.
It is essentially a system of relative processes. Now, doesn't that make you feel better? According to this system, though, we are each comprised of five of these processes. In Sanskrit, they're called the five Skandhas or aggregates. We're made of aggregates. We're sort of an aggregate thing. They are: Form, feelings, our perceptions, our intentions, and our consciousness. This makes sense, doesn't it? If you were to point to a self, the Skandhas are about as close as you can get. Your form, your feelings, your perceptions, your intentions, and your consciousness. You only have to observe your thoughts or your feelings for about five minutes to realize we’re on pretty shaky ground when we claim anything as a concrete self, and guess what? It gets even shakier. It's not just our sense of self that is like that. It's our sense of everything else, and this is called Shunyata, meaning emptiness or voidness, which is not to say everything is empty and that it doesn't exist.
It just doesn't exist the way you think it does. A quote from the Lankavatara Sutra is a favorite of mine. It says, “things are not as they seem, nor are they otherwise.” That's what shunyata is all about. It's all about perception. It's all about the stars fading and vanishing at dawn … Bubbles on a fast-moving stream … Morning dew drops evaporating on blades of grass … A candle flickering in a strong wind … Echoes, mirages, and phantoms … Hallucinations and dreams. It's all like a dream, because it's all relative—depending on other things, other people, and its own causes. That is the meaning of interdependence. Nothing is real, as in concrete, fixed, unchanging, permanent. Things are empty of those qualities, because things are all dependent on something else, or dependent on the way you view these things—your perceptions—so, despite the seeming emptiness of calling something empty it is exactly the opposite.
It's full of possibility. It doesn't mean nothing exists. It means nothing exists as you thought it did, but it could equally exist to something else far better. So it all depends on your view and your intention, which of course, I will have to cover in another podcast. But circling back to the beginning, to our adolescent wish to make life meaningful, we can see that Buddhism can be a refuge and a roadmap, and can fit each one of our personalities and inclinations.
The first step is to examine our minds. When properly prepared, our mind become fertile soil for the bloom of compassion and the bloom of wisdom, the fruits benefiting both ourselves and all other beings. We have to become the peace we seek.
Give it a try. Tell me what you think.
That's it for this podcast episode. Thank you for listing and check out my website https://www.everyday-buddhism.com/ for notes about the show and upcoming guests or topics. Please feel free to leave comments on my website or send me an email to suggest subjects you'd like me to cover in upcoming podcasts and I promise I'll do my best
And, if you liked what you heard so far, please subscribe, and take a minute to review the podcast so more people can find out about it. Thanks again and until next time, keep making your every days better!