Even though I quit the course at Kopan Monastery because I didn’t get along with the teacher’s style (!) I certainly wasn’t ready to dismiss Buddhism in its entirety and so, after leaving the yoga ashram, I sat a three day Buddhism course at a small centre in Pokhara, and what an altogether different experience, and not only because I made it to the end. The monk-teacher was an “opinionated American” (thank you, Andy) as well as a critical thinker whose style really appealed to me and made me wish he’d taught the month-long course at Kopan as I might have enjoyed it, stayed and learnt something!
Anyway, my point is that, regardless of any bits of Buddhism I disagree with, it has some solid philosophies at its foundation that are useful tools to understanding happiness.
In Buddhism there’s something called “The Four Noble Truths” and they go like this:
1) There is suffering
2) There are reasons for suffering
3) It’s possible to make suffering stop
4) There’s a path you can follow to make suffering stop.
Point four is made up of “the eightfold path” which is a list of tangible ways to stop suffering. It’s a brilliant list and I don’t doubt it works but I don’t think it’s exhaustive in itself and I feel it can be made more relevant and straight-forward for us regular people.
And that’s why I’m in the East, doing courses, reading, meditating, thinking, talking to spiritual people, trying to get to the bottom of it so I can cut to the chase, write it in plain English and bring it home. (Did you know that, by the way? I’m not, as a paraglider I met recently suggested, “having a midlife crisis”. Or if I am, I’ve been having one since I was nine.)
I’ve narrowed down my findings to a few main points, all of which I aim to explain in full in due course as, obviously, the “hows” are just as important as the “whats”.
Meantime, for your perusal, here are the WHATS…
Firstly, there’s a bunch of things we need to know. I’ll call them “The Four Plain Truths”:
1) The cause of our suffering is because of our untrained mind. The more we train the mind in the right way, the less we’ll suffer.
2) Everything we do has an effect. Every action and interaction with a person, an animal, even an inanimate object has an effect both on ourself and them that can be positive, neutral or negative. We may not be here for a long time but what we do perpetuates and may stick around long after we’ve gone.
3) Pleasure is not true happiness. Pleasure is temporary, whereas true happiness is a deep, peaceful contentment that lasts.
4) Religion works as a technique, not just a belief system. We can’t know for certain about past and future lives, ghosts and gods, etc. but that’s not to say that all religion is bullshit. A lot of people have found true inner peace through following the rituals of religion but they don’t have to believe or understand every word to do so; it can work just as effectively as a technique to attain lasting happiness (as long as we also follow “The Four Simple Instructions” – see below).
And then there’s a bunch of things we need to do. Let’s call them “The Four Simple Instructions”:
1) Be kind to everyone and everything equally, INCLUDING OURSELF! Those of us with low self-worth need to work on it as negative thoughts and beliefs stop us from ever being at peace, and harm both us and those around us.
2) Be present in everything we do. When working, concentrate on working. When socialising, keep the mind right there with our friends. If we’re with our family, don’t let our thoughts wander off to something we did earlier or will be doing later.
3) Accept what we don’t have control over, and that change is inevitable. When things are going well we hope it’ll always be that way, and in difficult times we hope it’ll pass. Nothing at all stays the same, things change, life moves on and the best way to handle that is to accept it as we sure as heck can’t stop it.
4) Trust the universe and flow with life. Let go of “should” and “must”, stop worrying about whether it’ll make you rich or popular or whether it’s scary or impractical, and follow the path of your heart.
Because of our conditioning (everything we’ve been told by our parents, teachers, peers and society from the day we were born) The Four Plain Truths can be hard to accept and The Four Simple Instructions can seem anything but easy, yet they ARE possible; the next level of my quest is to explain the HOWS…