The Buddha on “knowing,” good advice for this Presidential election season?

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Wayne W. Dyer’s outstanding book, Wisdom of the Ages:

Buddha on knowing:
(563 B.C.-483 B.C.) (anything that is still around after 2500 years must have some modicum of value, right?)

“Do not believe what you have heard.
Do not believe in tradition because it it handed down many generations.
Do not believe in anything that has been spoken of many times.
Do not believe because the written statements come form some old sage.
Do not believe in conjecture.
Do not believe in authority or teachers or elders.
But after careful observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and it will benefit one and all, then accept it and live by it.

–BUDDHA
(363 B.C.-483 B.C.)

At age 29, Prince Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), seeing the unhappiness, sickness, and death that even the wealthiest and most powerful are subject to in this life, he abandoned the life he was leading in search of a higher truth and a path out of unhappiness, sickness, pain and death.

The key point in this passage is that everything that you carry around with you that you call ‘your belief’ has become your own largely because of the experiences and testimonies of other people. And if it comes to you from a source outside of yourself, regardless of how persuasive the conditioning process might be, and of how many people just like you have worked to convince you of the truth of these beliefs, the fact that it is someone else’s truth means that you receive it with some question marks or doubts.

For example….If I were to attempt to convince you about the taste of a delectable fish, you would perhaps listen but still have your doubts. Were I to show you pictures of this fish, and have hundreds of people come testify about the veracity of my statements, you might become more convinced. But the modicum of doubt would still remain because you hadn’t tasted it. You might accept the truth of its deliciousness for me; but until your taste buds experience the fish, your truth is only a belief based on my truth, on my experience. And so it is with all the well-meaning members of your tribes (churches/civic organizations/families/network of facebook friends), and their tribal ancestors before them.

Just because you have heard it, and it is a long-surviving tradition, and it is recorded over the centuries, and the world’s greatest teachers have endorsed it, those are still not reasons to accept a belief. Remember, “Do not believe it,” as the Buddha instructs.

Rather than using the term “belief,” try shifting to the word “knowing.” When you have direct experience of tasting the fish, you now have a knowing.
That is, you have conscious contact and can determine your truth based on your experience. You know how to swim or ride a bike not because you have a belief, but because you have had direct experience.

You are being reminded by the “enlightened one” of 2500 years ago, to apply this same understanding to your personal and spiritual life. There is a fundamental difference between knowing something and knowing about something. “Knowing about” is another term for belief. “Knowing” is a term reserved for direct experience, which means an absence of doubt.

I understand that the persuasiveness of tribal (community/poitical parties/family/facebook friends :)) influences is exceedingly powerful. You are constantly being reminded of what you should or shouldn’t believe, and what all our tribal members have always believed, and what will happen if you ignore those beliefs. Fear becomes the constant companion of your beliefs, and despite the doubts that you may feel inside, you often adopt these beliefs and make them crutches in your life, while you hobble through your days looking for a way out of traps that have been carefully set by generations of believers before you.

Finally, I want to mention that the Buddha’s conclusion is the only line without the word “believe,” He says when it agrees with reason -that is, when you know it to be true based on your own observation and experience -and it is beneficial to one and all, then and only then, live by it!!!!!!!! 🙂

…..Oh, one more point. I know the idea of resisting the “tribal influence” is often perceived as being callous or indifferent to the experience and teaching of others, particularly those who care the most about you. But, I suggest you read the words of Buddha hear again if that is your only conclusion. He does not speak of rejection, only of being grown-up and mature enough to make up your own mind and live by your knowing, rather than the experiences and testimonies of others.

The Noble Eightfold path

Ok so I’m not a Buddhist (yet:)), but I thought this was an interesting way to help someone focus on improving their behavior, the choices they make and probably the quality of their life….The big view.com has a nice page about this, the following is from their site:

The Noble Eightfold Path describes the way to the end of suffering, as it was laid out by Siddhartha Gautama. It is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions; and it finally leads to understanding the truth about all things. Together with the Four Noble Truths it constitutes the gist of Buddhism. Great emphasis is put on the practical aspect, because it is only through practice that one can attain a higher level of existence and finally reach Nirvana. The eight aspects of the path are not to be understood as a sequence of single steps, instead they are highly interdependent principles that have to be seen in relationship with each other.

1. Right View

Right view is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realise the Four Noble Truths. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right view is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right view is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.

2. Right Intention

While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.

3. Right Speech

Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.

4. Right Action

The second ethical principle, right action, involves the body as natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Again, the principle is explained in terms of abstinence: right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others. Further details regarding the concrete meaning of right action can be found in the Precepts.

5. Right Livelihood

Right livelihood means that one should earn one’s living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided.

6. Right Effort

Right effort can be seen as a prerequisite for the other principles of the path. Without effort, which is in itself an act of will, nothing can be achieved, whereas misguided effort distracts the mind from its task, and confusion will be the consequence. Mental energy is the force behind right effort; it can occur in either wholesome or unwholesome states. The same type of energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness. Right effort is detailed in four types of endeavours that rank in ascending order of perfection: 1. to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states, 2. to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen, 3. to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen, and 4. to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.

7. Right Mindfulness

Right mindfulness is the controlled and perfected faculty of cognition. It is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Usually, the cognitive process begins with an impression induced by perception, or by a thought, but then it does not stay with the mere impression. Instead, we almost always conceptualise sense impressions and thoughts immediately. We interpret them and set them in relation to other thoughts and experiences, which naturally go beyond the facticity of the original impression. The mind then posits concepts, joins concepts into constructs, and weaves those constructs into complex interpretative schemes. All this happens only half consciously, and as a result we often see things obscured. Right mindfulness is anchored in clear perception and it penetrates impressions without getting carried away. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualisation in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of the state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena.

8. Right Concentration

The eighth principle of the path, right concentration, refers to the development of a mental force that occurs in natural consciousness, although at a relatively low level of intensity, namely concentration. Concentration in this context is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. The Buddhist method of choice to develop right concentration is through the practice of meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations.

The Four Noble Truths

I’m no Buddhist, but this is an interesting way of viewing one’s life and striving to improve it…

1. Life means suffering.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

4. There is a path to the cessation of suffering.

1. Life means suffering.

To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a “self” which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call “self” is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

The cessation of suffering can be attained through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment. The third noble truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering. Attaining and perfecting dispassion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it.

4. The path to the cessation of suffering.

There is a path to the end of suffering – a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely “wandering on the wheel of becoming”, because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.

A blessing from the smiling Buddha.