He’s physically gone, but his knowledge and wisdom live on in every facet of our lives today. From our philosophical beliefs to moral values, extending to modern fields of modern psychology, neuroscience etc.
Happy Wesak Day.
Today is a day to commemorate our teacher, the Buddha, a human-teacher who discovered about suffering, who ended his own suffering and discovered the cause of suffering as well as expounded the path to end suffering. He did not proclaim the “truth” neither was he a prophet nor God, he just discovered and teaches em’. That’s all. No labeling of “Buddhism”, no myths or magical tricks etc just practical methodologies that deals with the reality of life, issues on mind cultivation and how to lead a happier life in accordance with the dhamma. Today, in commemoration with Wesak Day, here’s a reflection on some of:
My Spiritual Lens for The Past 20 Years
Ps: Mind you, I am not a religious expert, this is just my belief system at the current moment.
One of the earliest forms of Buddha statue: Gandhara
1st. My Life becomes a personal-social experiment.
A teacher once told me this quote by the Buddha: “Believe nothing no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and common sense.” This is “ Ehipassiko” – my first Buddhist-ic value in life.
Ehipassiko” is a paliword used to describe the investigative nature of Buddhism which
- discourages blind faith
- encourages people to investigate, think and see for themselves,
- to put a teaching into practice and witness the fruits of such practice through direct experience before believing in it.
This allows me to question and doubt anything in life without having guilt or fear for condemnation- even concepts within Modern Buddhism itself. Besides, given the fact that we “manusia- comes from the sanskrit root word manu (the mind) and usia (develop), we are beings with a mind to develop, think and rationalize. Hence we should use it, isn’t so?
“If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.” ~ Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
An example, I would question: why do we use incense to pray? Is that real buddhist teachings? or just cultural beliefs? However, no action is inherently good or bad, I would then have to look at my second value:
2nd. Right Intention is foremost Important
What is the intention behind such an action, for say using an incense stick to pray for the deceased? Of course we know that it is more a cultural tradition than part of Buddhism but the “spirit” of the action is basically to show our gratitude and pay our deepest respect to our ancestors right? In that case, I would rather bow and pay my deepest respect to a deceased once instead of polluting the air with a few carbon sticks. However, to be sensitive around my families and relatives, I will try to voice out my opinions but if they are too attached with such a tradition, I may just stick on with em. Because my intention now is to maintain a harmonious relationship.
“Mind is the forerunner of all things. Mind is their master. They are all mind-made.” ~Dhammapada
Disclaimer: I don’t mean that we should ignore certain problems or wrong misconduct just for the sake of achieving harmony but rather, to find a skillful means of solving it. It isn’t that “intention speaks louder than words/actions” but rather a leading factor in judging our actions.
For example: a murderer who has the intention to kill is presumably worst than someone who killed out of self-defense or negligence. Or, a person could do something extremely beneficial to a person but if it is done out of the intention to deceive him and not being genuine, the motivation makes it a selfish act. In the same way, I don’t consider a person who puts his suffering dog to sleep as “killing” it. Right intention determines the polarity and genuineness of our actions, however we should also keep in mind that it is only one of the elements within the Noble Eight-fold Path in which all 8 factors (right action, right view, right speech, right mindfulness…etc) should all be practice concurrently.
Therefore, everything that I do, I always try to analyze both my impact and intentions. I think it can be translated into cause and effect- my intention being the cause and my actions being the effect of my intention and possibly there’ll be another effect deriving from my actions… And it is through the lens of “focusing on these tiny intentions” that influences my decision-making in every aspect of my life (hopefully).
Why do we keep the foremost precept of not killing? Well, the intention is not to harm other beings because we ourselves don’t wish to be harm. If for example, Obama is trying to make immigration reforms in America because he sympathizes with the fate of millions immigrants who are being exploited and marginalized, then I would support it out of humanity, why? because I believe his intentions are good. But really, some problems and matter in life are:
3rd. No Point Arguing Over
Some of my friends asked me:
If there is no God in your religion, then what do you believe in? Who created this universe?
There are a few reasons why we don’t choose to believe in God, but our basic approach is neither to deny nor believe, but rather it’s not worth discussing, and that the need for such a belief is not necessary to guarantee one’s end of suffering or happiness. As explained in Buddhanet:
We don’t believe in a god because we believe in humanity. We believe that each human being is precious and important, that all have the potential to develop into a Buddha – a perfected human being. We believe that humans can outgrow ignorance and irrationality and see things as they really are. We believe that hatred, anger, spite and jealousy can be replaced by love, patience, generosity and kindness. We believe that all this is within the grasp of each person if they make the effort, guided and supported by fellow Buddhists and inspired by the example of the Buddha. As the Buddha says:
No one saves us but ourselves, No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path, but Buddhas clearly show the way. However, we respect those who believes in their God because its their own preferences and choices. We neither condemn, nor look down upon em- for everyone is equal. =)
So what’s the logic to ending our suffering?
The Noble eight-fold path.
As a layman, I adhere to certain precepts such as the 5 precepts ( not to kill, not to steal, not to cheat in a relationship not to drink etc) because they are the basic precepts that prevents me from harming other beings. By doing so, my heart is freed from guilt and anger, making it more conducive for meditation- to purify and still my mind. And if we proceed with diligence, finally coupled with right view and right intention, we can cultivate more compassion and wisdom arising from stillness and insights, allowing us to penetrate the truths and deal with our sufferings more effectively.
So, if life is an experiment, how do we run the experiment?
4th: Right Mindfulness
The great English Biologist Thomas Henry Huxley once said, “ The ultimate court of appeal is observation and experiment..not authority”.
There is no authority in Buddhism, but you’re responsible for your own actions. That is karma. Anyways, if life in itself is an experiment, first and foremost tool required to understanding life is “mindfulness” or simply awareness. The definition of mindfulness can be found in the Digha Nikaya sutta (summarized):
when one is mindful, one is aware of “the body in and of itself…remaining focused on the feelings in and of themselves…the mind in and of itself…the mental qualities in of themselves…”
Mindfulness has become a relatively popular concept in the West today especially in the field of cognitive psychology and therapy. Learning to master it myself, whenever I am aware of my own sensation within and without, I feel grounded. My stress or negative thoughts can disappear in the blink of an eye- that is what real supernatural power is- the power to transcend your thoughts and emotions in the split of a second. In fact, science has shown that such quality of mind, besides capable of reducing pain, anxiety and depression, improves cognitive function and produce changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain related to learning and memory, emotional regulation, and self-awareness.
5th: Metta and Kalyanamitra
There are many other spiritual concepts that capture my heart, but to end this post, the last two concepts that I really like is: “metta” and “kalyanamitra”.
Metta basically means loving-kindness while kalyanamitra can be translated into “spiritual friends /virtuous friends/ admirable friends. Probably in the same way “positive thoughts can generate positive words..actions…habits..character and finally destiny…” my life basically changes as I develop more understanding and kindness for my loved ones and even strangers around me. All beings are equal, and we all share the same desire for happiness. As much as I crave for love, everyone is fundamentally existing in the same context. The more metta I try to cultivate.. ( I wouldn’t say I’m very good at it), the sheer fact of trying to do so makes me a happier person- motivates me to lend a helping hand because I can empathize with others more easily.
There has been many “kalyanamitras” who appeared in my life and taught me something. Others mentor, guide and support me along this path of self-discovery, growth and contribution. In the same way, I always aspire to be a “kalyanamitra” myself, that regardless of what, I can always be a warmth and supportive pillar to those around me, and that, I believe is paying my “metta” forward.
Happy Wesak Day.