Doubt everything. Find your own light. – Buddha
Buddhism is about waking up. The root word in the ancient Pali language of Northern India of words like Buddhism and Buddha is Budh, which means “awaken.” So Buddhism is the study and practice of awakening and Buddha is the awakened one. Another term, Buddhadharma, is the path that leads to awakening, and awakening means the application of careful observation, reason and intuitive intelligence in order to see and experience life at deeper and subtler levels than our usual cultural and psychological conditioning makes possible.
This makes Buddhism very different from Western religions in that it is not what is known as a “revealed” religion such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam which are based in supposed divine revelation. One has to be a believer in these religions, doubt is forbidden, and faith generally means believing in teachings that often have very little to do with actual experience. Buddhism, on the other hand, is based in the development of our full human observational and reasoning potential applied to the life we experience every day, and “awakening” into deep truths that are clearly present but usually overlooked. Faith in Buddhism is faith in the capacity of every person to awaken from “egoic delusion,” believing in that which is believed because it is what one is accustomed to or is told to believe. Doubt is essential and faith is earned.
Remarkably, Buddhism describes existence to be very much like what modern quantum and field theory physics is stumbling upon concerning the nature of the Universe. In mythic language, Buddhism describes what science now tells us about an underlying unified field of proto-energy from which the various energies of the Universe appear, with the very real possibility of that first energy being consciousness. Simultaneously, Buddhism is also increasingly recognized as a most effective psychology and system of ethics which recognizes the illusion and fixation on egoic separateness as the cause of human intrapsychic and social conflict, thus revolutionizing the social sciences. Buddhism tells us we can have faith in our human capacities to lead us to truth if we just let go of being seduced by the self-absorption of ego and its stories of the superiority of ego’s fantasies based in its own specialness. There is no one, Buddhism assures us, who does not possess “Buddha nature.” We are all buddhas – only requiring that we awaken.
Albert Einstein, the pre-eminent figure of modern physics, said of Buddhism in a quite remarkable testimonial: “Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion of the future: it transcends a personal god, avoids dogma and theology; it covers both the natural and the spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.”
As a psychology, The Buddha is said to have stated, “The only thing I teach is the nature of suffering and the path that leads to its cessation.” And in line with the core of Buddhism being awakening, what the Buddha then is saying is that human emotional suffering, which stands unique in all of nature for its personalization of difficulty into a subjective state of emotional pain, is the result of ignorance into the true nature of existence and humanity’s place within it, thus making Buddhism more of a cosmology and a psychology than a religion in Western terms. In the Buddha’s exposition on the path that leads to the cessation of suffering he indicated eight human endeavors that were elemental for liberation from causing and being afflicted by this unnecessary “suffering.” He called this teaching The Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path consists of what is called: Right View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration. Understandably, given the moralistic teachings of Western religions, there is the misperception that the “right” of The Eightfold Path is a moralistic teaching, but Buddhism does not teach morals, holding them to be projections of egoistic judgment. Buddhism’s emphasis is rather on the development of inner virtue which will lead to the “right” understanding of how to proceed in life so as not to be a perpetrator or victim of unnecessary suffering. This may seem semantic, but it is not. The difference here is that while both morality and virtue point us to a code of conduct in the world, morality is judgmental and has as its source outside hierarchical power authority. Virtue, as used in the Buddhist sense, arises naturally from within when a person is not off course in their life following egoistic urges, desires and fears rather than accurate perception of what beliefs, attitudes and behaviors contribute to happiness, peace and wisdom and which detract. Morality leads to rebellion and disobedience. Virtue is self-reinforcing and leads to wisdom and compassion; there is no outside authority to rebel against. There is only learning based in one’s own experience. Simply stated, selfishness leads to conflict; selfless compassion and generosity bring peace. Happiness and unhappiness ultimately are about living in peaceful connection or in conflict, and Life will teach us this if we pay close enough attention, and it is the development of the capacity for close attention that is at the core of Buddhism.
The Path begins with Right View, and this is about realizing the fundamental interconnectedness of all phenomena and that egocentricity and the belief in the ego’s separate specialness set apart from all “other” is the source of human ignorance and confusion. It points us to realize that the belief in dualistic separateness is but a self-reinforcing delusional appearance that actually arises out of non-dual unity, just as modern physics is revealing. Right View is essentially that we are all in this Life together, and from a religious point of view, sinning is in the breaking of this bond, that Right View is the Sacred View, seeing and living in sacred connection with all Life. This View then forms the basis for the following points along the Path.
Right Intention is what holds us on the Path. We must have a firm intention to overcome egoic delusion and the suffering that inevitably ensues, to be honest and courageous in evaluating our own experience so that we are not beholden to outside ego-based authority and are willing to stand in truth as it is experienced no matter how much social and cultural pressure tells us to conform to norms of selfish behavior. Intention to discover and manifest our inherent connected goodness is what we can always come back to when we are seduced by ego’s call. We can, without self-judgment – only discerning course correction – return to the Path.
Right Speech, Action and Livelihood are what bring the Path to life. Somewhat like the Hippocratic Oath of medicine, it is in holding to a firm belief that we must seek to do no harm in our speech, actions and work in the world. These elements of the Path are not based in rules, but rather dynamic discernment in any given moment and situation as to what actions lead to harm, and holding to the insight that any harm that I bring into the world detracts from my own peace and joy, my own ability to be spiritually connected. Any harm I bring into the world, or the seeing of another as an object for manipulation, will be an obstacle to the beauty of spiritual union and psychological health that is our true goal in life.
Right Effort tells us that only by bringing our intention into action through diligent training and practice do we have any possibility of overcoming ego’s seduction into self-absorption and the personalization of our experience in the world that inevitably leads to confusion and suffering. Right Concentration and Mindfulness are the mental trainings that are necessary, for without the ability to concentrate the mind, we have no hope of stepping out of the superficial scanning that egoic mind employs to reinforce its biases and opinions. We are stuck in a busy mind spinning stories of “me.”
We need steady concentrative power to engage in mindfulness, which is conscientious application of non-judgmental awareness into the “what-is” of Life, to break through egoic delusion and to awaken into seeing and experiencing our interconnectedness. Concentration power is the muscle behind awakening; Mindfulness is the artistry of bringing the full capacities of the mind – sensation, intellect, emotion, and intuition into balanced discerning inquiry into the mystery of Life. Mindfulness breaks through the personalization of ego that has us locked in emotionality and intellectual justification for staying in our social/cultural/psychological predispositions that lead to the repeated misinterpretation and flawed action that is the essence of human neurosis. Mindfulness allows us to see the interconnectedness of Life, for Mindfulness awakens us to being awareness, the connecting energy of consciousness in which the passing forms of Life appear, have a duration, and pass, while the consciousness energy of awareness is our one true constant and the actual source of discerning intelligence.
To awaken into Life’s secrets, we must doubt everything we are told and taught by our egocentric, selfish society. We must bring our own faculties to bear in honed precision, just as the Buddha did, to bring the light of awakened awareness to the problem and resolution of suffering. Having examined Life for ourselves and having found validity for ourselves, shaped by our own inquiry and discovery, then we can bring that which rings true into practice and have faith in its rightness because we have experienced it for ourselves. Right View, Right intention and Right Effort will bring forth Right Action in our lives and in this we can have faith.