The Buddhist Way
The whole of the Buddha's teaching could be essentially summarised thus: "Nothing, nothing whatsoever, is to be clung to as I or mine. Such is freedom." The way to true freedom is through the ending of birth and death - the affect-laden identification with "I" and "mine" - in this very present life. This is why the Buddha's teaching is called the 'doctrine of immediacy.'
A stable happiness can be achieved in this life - happiness that is not dependent on circumstances, but one that comes with being attuned to one's full humanness - and especially to the nature of the mind, which is spacious and vast. This happiness is not easily acquired, despite our inborn gifts - it requires an inner dicipline, consisting particularly in the early stages of a loving watchfulness and dispassionate investigation.
As His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said in many ways, on many occasions, the discipline amounts to "identifying those factors which lead to happiness and those factors which lead to suffering. Having done this, one then sets about gradually eliminating those factors which lead to suffering and cultivating those which lead to happiness. That is the way." And in this endeavour, he always points out, compassion plays a vital part.
The way of sincere effort, and of compassion and kindness, is well-exemplified by the following encouraging words from the Buddha, and this short commentary from a teacher, Sharon Salzburg:
Sharon Salzburg's commentary is as follows:
So, it is necessary to develop some skill with the mind - to take care, and to pay attention. But this isn't a narcissistic self-absorption - we unveil our relationship with the world when we reveal the delusions which we live by. The Buddha taught that by protecting oneself one protects others; and by protecting others, one protects oneself:
This teaching is reflected in the Mahayana Buddhist commitment to practice for the benefit of all beings.
These are the essentials of walking the Way: meditation, mindfulness, investigation (see the Buddha's statements on free inquiry (See Kalama Sutta), unstinting effort to abandon what is harmful and to foster what is conducive to well-being, and the correlative realisation of unlimited compassion, kindness, joy and peace. The ultimate gift of this way is the realisation of freedom - a mind that doesn't get stuck on anything is unimpeded.
It is clear that there is a relationship between the way we live our daily lives and our realisation of transpersonal depth. On the other hand, many meditation teachers point out that any effort takes you away from the goal - there is no way to become what you already are, they say. So what is this 'Way' that Buddhists speak of, the Way that connects us with our true nature?
In general our suffering arises based on ignoring these facts about existence: existence is impermanence, or change; and, there is no permanent and separate self to be found anywhere in the world, inside ourselves or outside - all things are intertwined with all other things. It is the lack of recognition of these facts that form the basis of our self-caused suffering. (On the second of these points, the Buddha's teaching on no-self was a strategy for liberation, not a dogma about reality. Thanissaro Bikkhu has a helpful short essay on this.)
Hence the 'Way' consists in connecting precisely, intimately, with our self as we actually are in this moment, and also, helping it to develop and mature through loving, joyful, compassionate and wise action; the way requires connecting with all of our individual experience - with the mind (subtle and gross), including the feelings and emotions, the body, and the objects of mind. So, as we take care of our self we engage in a practice of the self. The Buddhist Way doesn't involve attaining anything over and above what we already have available to us - it involves knowing what is here.
So, is this way 'self-absorbed'? Contrary to popular thinking, taking care of self-knowledge frees one of our narcissism - because such an orientation frees us from the tyranny of unexamined falsehoods; and reveals our primordial interdependence. In so doing it frees us of obsessive self-absorption, and opens the heart to the plight of others, including to other species. The Way of self-realisation is rather, then, the way of realising universal responsibility through the basic intelligence of compassion and loving-kindness. We are together in this world, with all its various crises - and, indeed, the individual is society, so what we do matters.
From this perspective we can practice the way without withdrawing from the world:
Links to sites that introduce Buddha Dhamma:
Buddhism A well laid out introduction to classical Buddhist concepts.
Satipatthana Sutta - the Buddha's basic mindfulness and meditation instructions.
For a very detailed advanced discussion of the path, see the Wings to Awakening by Thanissaro Bikkhu. Lots of good translations of the primary Pali Buddhist texts.
A page on Zen Buddhism and Ch'an.