Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Eightfold Path

Following the Eight-fold Path?  Whoa, come on, not all that ethical shit. I like my [fill in your favorite intoxicant here].
A personal note: This morning I woke up hoping to not suffer like I did yesterday from the fire of high summer, which was occupying my center with a red energy of frustration, anger, confusion, and overwhelm. You can always find reasons for sensations like this, they're there in your life, and it's a challenge not to do that, just ride it out.

Some small exploration of the web led me by accident to this statement:
[Few Americans] (36%) identify Buddhism as the religion that aims at nirvana, the state of being free from suffering.
And this set me up straight with something like curiosity.  Yes, that is the promise of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths, the basic philosophy of all Buddhism.  You can easily find formal statements of them on the web, but I think of them like this:

1. Loss, pain, sickness, aging, death are inherent in human life, and they hurt. (Suffering, dissatisfaction.)
2. What makes them hurt so much is that we don't accept their inevitability, we strive to overcome our pain in a thousand ways. (Illusion, desire)
3. We don't have to be like this. It is possible to accept reality, and to reduce the power of our desires and aversions, and just enjoy life. (nirvana)
4. The way to do this is to practice meditation, cultivate wisdom, and refrain from harming in every aspect of our lives. (The Eightfold Path)  And this is a narrow way.
Now, wait.  Isn't this practice all about me feeling better just by meditating?  Or wearing a mala around my wrist? Cultivating mindfulness while I cook and eat wonderful food? Not feeling so much pain? Being calm and happy? Definitely that!
Ah, afraid not. That begins to sound more like everything American culture teaches us to desire - the (failed) promises of psychotherapy and shopping and plastic surgery and exercise and great vacations and brain plasticity, i.e. centered on personal happiness.  (Although maybe we could work with the plasticity idea, which is the evidence that we can train our minds.)

No, the Buddha says you have to behave a certain way to be happy. And that is not a self-serving way, au contraire, not a way of pleasure and gratification.  Following right speech, right action, and right livelihood are going to keep you pretty busy with various kinds of self-restraint.  It is not just about sitting froggily, though you know I advocate that. Meditation is the first thing to do, I think, the thing that can teach us how to slow down and be aware of what you're doing so you can try to live ethically.

Me, when I'm like this, right speech is a great challenge.  It often consists of keeping my mouth shut.  Time to meditate now.  And I will post the lovely cooling picture I took two days ago in the Park of Roses.  This is especially for Kit.


  1. Lovely photo! Thank you! I feel cooler already.

  2. Fantastic post! Just what I needed to read today. I'm posting a link to it on my facebook page! I'm so glad I found you!