Buddhists/Buddhism-Input and Personal Advice
Hi John Willemsens,
I was hoping you could answer a few of these questions that I have devised as part of an online interview for a class on Eastern and Western Philosophies. These all pertain to Buddhism.
1. Can a Buddhist eat meat without breaking the guideline of “not killing”?
2. How does meditation fit in with Buddhism?
3. How do the practices of Buddhism help one attain happiness?
4. If you had to pick the most important concept of Buddhism, what would it be?
5. How can Buddhism be used specifically to lessen individual (and eventually group) suffering?
I will call this answer part 2, since I started part 1 in the other identical posting. In Part 1, I answered #1-#3 and will address #4 and #5 in this post.
"4. If you had to pick the most important concept of Buddhism, what would it be? "
The most important concept of Buddhism is Dhamma or Truth.
In order to live a life with minimal suffering, the Buddha provided up with a special tool – the truth. There are three types of truths:
1. Individual Truths –Truths that are held by individuals. These are truths such as – I am always right. I am the victim. I own this or that. Or any statement that begins with “I believe…”
2. Democratic Truths – Truths that are held by the majority. These truths include – certain drugs/substances are allowed, certain are banned. Laws. Courts can decide our fates. Taxes are fair. As long as the majority agrees, it is considered a truth. However, not all democratic truths are held by all. In fact, the term majority implies the existence of a minority. If the majority it right, then by definition, the minority must be wrong.
3. Universal Truth – Truths that are held by all living beings. These truths include – all beings love their own lives. No being wants to be deprived of what they have. All things change. All life must eventually die. These truths are known by all living beings.
If our perception is based on an individual or democratic truth, there is a chance that it might be wrong. For example, individuals have believed themselves to be right, even after they have committed a crime. In this case, the individual holds individual truths, but is being punished by democratic truths. In this case, who is right, who is wrong?
To know this, we must be able to discern what is or isn’t a universal truth. The Buddha gave us tools to use for this:
Dukkha is the Pali word for suffering or stress. Dukkha is the result of our wrong perception which has manifested itself in thoughts, speech, and/or actions. In this, Dukkha is like a sensor. Once it goes off, we are alerted that we are holding a wrong perception. Dukkha is like the pain we feel in our bodies. The pain receptors we have are there to alert us that something is wrong and steps should be taken to alleviate the pain.
Annicam is the tool to alleviate the pain. Annicam is defined as impermanence. Annicam can also be interpreted as change, nothing stays the same, and everything comes in pairs. The Buddha taught that everything in this world is subject to Dukkham, Annicam, and Anatta. Therefore, we are suffering since we do not see the Annicam nature of our perceptions. For example, if we are upset that loved one’s personality has changed, this is because we expected their personality not to change. Our expectation for something to always stay the same is contrary to Annicam. We are refusing to allow something to transpire the way it is meant to. Everyone changes, therefore our expectation that they would not will only be met with suffering, stress and disappointment.
Anatta is the result of understanding Annicam. Anatta is the cessation of being in a supposed form. Once a seed has been planted and it sprouts into a young tree, that seed is considered to be Anatta. Once the young tree becomes an old tree, the young tree is considered to be Anatta. All that is in the world can only exist for a finite period of time. Therefore, our “self” cannot be in these temporary things. Many Buddhists try to practice and contemplate Anatta (in the form of nothingness). Acāriya Thoon taught Anatta should not be contemplated. It will be understood only through the cultivation and understanding Annicam. This is the same as someone who has not eaten but is contemplating the concept of fullness. Through that contemplation they will never arrive at fullness. However, through eating (understanding Annicam) they will arrive at fullness on their own. Just as fullness is the end result of eating, Anatta is the end result of Annicam. In this case, Dukkham would be the hunger that alerts us that we should eat.
Perceptions that lead to Dukkha are not truth. Perceptions that are contrary to Annicam, are not truth. Perceptions are contrary to Anatta, are not truth.
Through finding and understanding the truth, the release of suffering can be found. All suffering comes from misalignment with the truth. Everything the Buddha taught was based on Truth.
***5. How can Buddhism be used specifically to lessen individual (and eventually group) suffering?***
I would refer to the previous answer for #3. Through the search for happiness, once can lessen individual and eventually group suffering.
Take for example learning how to cook. By learning how to cook, you are now able to provide for yourself. You no long need to unnecessarily burden other people to cook for you. Therefore, your dependence and suffering that comes with is reduced. By not having to rely on others, bug and bother others, you have lowered the suffering they would have experienced due to you. In addition, you now know how to cook, so you can actually turn around and help others with problems with cooking. Thereby lowering their level of suffering. Through fixing yourself and improving yourself, you lower your own suffering and reduce the suffering of others.
I will paste the answer from #3 here:
Understanding cause and effect
Buddhism teaches us to find the cause of our problems. Once we find that cause, we can take steps to destroying it. Once the cause is destroyed, our problem will never return. If we have one less problem that will not return, is that not happiness?
Learning about yourself
The more we know about ourselves, the more we will be able to commit to actions, speech and thoughts that will truly benefit our lives and bless us with true happiness. True happiness comes from the inside out. We must learn about ourselves. Through learning about ourselves, we begin to understand others.
Compassion and forgiveness
Compassion and forgiveness are key concepts in Buddhism. However, to give compassion or forgiveness without right view is to merely create a higher sense of ego. To forgive, we must first recollect an instance when we have committed the same type of action. We must first understand the motives justifying our actions and the effects of our actions. Without understanding why we have committed an action, we will not be able to allow others to do the same. Through understanding our own actions, we will be compassionate and forgiving towards others as a result.
For example, if someone cuts in front of you in line at a bank, this might make you angry. You might try and calm yourself down by telling yourself that this person:
(a) Didn’t see you
(b) Is in a hurry
(c) Is having a bad day
If you try to have compassion or give forgiveness, it will only be given based on a condition. The danger of having compassion or giving forgiveness in this manner is that it is conditional. If compassion or forgiveness is based on a condition, it will only stand as long as the condition stands. Therefore, if you find out later that they:
(a) Did see you
(b) Were not in a hurry
(c) Were not having a bad day
You would no longer be able to forgive or have compassion for this person. This is because your forgiveness and compassion was born out of a condition.
In order to truly feel compassion or give forgiveness, you must first understand the action. Begin by internalizing. Ask yourself: Have I ever done this? (cut in line, taken someone’s place, …) If not, ask yourself a second question: Have I ever done something like this?(made others wait, been inconsiderate of others,…) Once you find a situation in which you have done it, you will understand firsthand why you did it. You will have empirical knowledge as to the cause and effect of your actions. You will be able to see both sides of the situation. Through this understanding you will understand why others do it. Then you will be able to generate true forgiveness and true compassion. In addition you will be able to make better decisions and be more aware of the effects of your actions.
True freedom - Living life without conditions
So much of our lives are based on conditions. Conditions, just as everything in the world, are subject to Annicam (change, impermanence). Therefore, if our lives are based on conditions that change, when that change comes, we will experience suffering. We often hear others and (most importantly) ourselves say:
“I would be happier if I had … (BMW, new bike, new girlfriend, more money…)”
- We assume that we would be happier if we had a new BMW. But we forget about what comes with it – security issues, gas prices, expensive maintenance, driving people around and/or people wanting to borrow your car.
“I wouldn’t be so mad if he/she did …. Instead of …”
- We think we would not be so mad if others changed their actions or speech, however, even when they say things differently or act differently, we still get mad. This is because the anger stems from perceptions inside of us, not from the actions of others.
“I am so lonely, if only I had someone …”
- We think that our loneliness will be gone if only we had someone. However, even when we have someone, we still feel lonely, regardless of whether they are close by or not. This is because the loneliness comes from inside.
All these statements are based on conditions. Once the condition changes, our satisfaction and happiness also change. Therefore, learning to live without setting impermanent conditions is the way to a happy life.
Thank you for your excellent and well thought out questions. I hope I have answered them adequately.