Friday, 22 March 2013

I don't know much about him...but I like him already!

Today, shifting gears from my latest Buddhism studies, I would like to talk about Pope Francis. I was browsing the internet yesterday, and came across this article the Guardian:
Pope to wash feet of 12 young people in Casal del Marmo penal institute during afternoon mass on day before Good Friday
Pope John Paul II kisses the foot of a clergyman during the Holy Thursday ceremony at St Peter's
John Paul II kisses the foot of a clergyman during the Holy Thursday ceremony at St Peter's Basilica during his time as pope. Photograph: Plinio Lepri/AP
He has already made himself known as the pope who takes the bus, pays his bills and wears his old shoes. Now Pope Francis has taken another step towards solidifying his image as the people's pontiff by announcing plans to celebrate a major pre-Easter ceremony in a youth detention centre.
In a statement, the Vatican said that, for the first time in living memory, the afternoon mass on Holy Thursday – the day before Good Friday – would be held in neither St Peter's basilica nor the basilica of St John in Lateran.
Instead, it would be celebrated by the new Argentinian pope in the chapel of the Casal del Marmo penal institute for minors and young adults on the outskirts of Rome. During the ceremony the 76-year-old pontiff will wash the feet of 12 inmates, a ritual designed to commemorate Jesus's gesture to his disciples after the Last Supper.
The Vatican said the ceremony would be a continuation of Francis's practice as archbishop of Buenos Aires, when he celebrated the mass of the Lord's Supper in "a context characterised by simplicity", including prisons, hospitals or shelters for the poor.
Francis's predecessor, Benedict XVI, visited the Casal del Marmo in 2007, but not for the Holy Thursday mass. For the first two years of his pontificate the German pope washed the feet of 12 lay people from the diocese of Rome, but since 2008 he chose a dozen priests for the ceremony.
John Paul II, who also kept the practice of feet-washing to men of the cloth for most of his reign, did start off with similar efforts to Francis. In 1980 he chose a group of homeless men, but the mass was held in St John in Lateran – the bishop of Rome's cathedral church.
In the week since his election Francis has endeared himself to many by bringing to the Vatican a simple aesthetic dubbed "Bergoglio style" by the Italian press.
It remains to be seen where Francis will chose to live: at the moment he is still in the St Martha house where cardinals stayed during conclave while renovation work is carried out on the Apostolic Palace. Upon seeing the grandeur of the large papal apartment last week, however, he was reported to have remarked that there was "room for 300 people".

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Question and Answer of Suffering..

What causes suffering? According to "Buddhism for Beginners", it is the cyclic existence we are stuck in, specifically attachment, ignorance and anger.

By not being aware of who we are and how we exist along with other phenomena in the world, we remain ignorant. We think we have a clue about what we're doing, who we are as a person in society, our worth, and what we can contribute to society, but sometimes we have that wrong. We create a false world where we think that having the biggest house, the flashiest car and the most expensive clothes will make us happy. We think that by getting that much coveted position in the workplace or having a six-figure salary will make us happy.                            

Is this Happiness?
Does this take illness away?     
    or this...? 

Maybe some more money could buy better friends/a partner/reunite the family? 

When we are ignorant, we project this fantasized way of existence onto ourselves and others, thinking that everything exists independently of itself. We form attachments to people and things that we think possess the qualities that will make us happy (I've mentioned some previously).

Then, inevitably, when we realize that we feel all alone in our big house, and our flashy car is just another 'thing' that doesn't really bring us happiness, we are filled with anger, and understandably so! Everything we were told that was supposed to make us happy, has let us down. We realize that there are other more important things and other ways of finding happiness.

Anger then makes us jealous, resentful, and proud. Once we become like this, all our actions, attitudes, and speech are motivated on jealousy, resentment and pride. This in turn effects our future experiences.

As you can see, this is one vicious, exhausting cycle of unhappiness.

However, to leave this cycle we can generate the wisdom to realize emptiness-we can come to terms with the fact that there is a lack of a solid, independent essence in ourselves, and others, and everything that exists. The more we learn to let go, and accept the impermanence of everything, the happier we will be.

Wisdom eliminates ignorance, wrong conceptions, disturbing attitudes, and negative emotions. When we gain this wisdom, we are no longer misinformed or have contaminated actions. When we leave the cycle, we become liberated beings and reach nirvana.

People, like you and me, who have not yet gained the wisdom are called sentient beings. 

Next time, I will write about the Three Jewels, and then we'll get down to the real ways we can start living out our simple lives and reach the state of nirvana.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Eight-fold Path Continued...

The eight-fold path is the path that can lead us to enlightenment. Personally, I don't seek spiritual enlightenment or want to become a wise, all knowing sort of person. I just want to find a way of living that I can be happy and content with. I want a lifestyle where I don't crave things I don't have; rather I enjoy and feel grateful for the things I already do have and the experiences I am going through.

The three principles of the path are as follows:

We need to have a determination to be free from the confusions of our problems and their causes. Judging by me just typing away on this blog, and you dear reader, taking the time to read my thoughts, I think it is safe to say that we are both determined to find an effective way out of our problems!

Next, we need to have altruistic intention (bodhicitta), which is the intention to become a Buddha (an enlightened being) so that we can be capable of helping others who also have problems in an effective manner.

Lastly, we need the wisdom realizing reality where we develop the wisdom and understanding of the true nature of ourselves and other phenomena, eliminating all false projections in the process.

The basic goal of Buddhism is to lead us to discover a path of lasting happiness for ourselves and others by freeing ourselves from cyclic existence (the cycle if constantly recurring problems we currently experience).

He looks so beautifully peaceful and serene...

I will talk about cyclic existence and the ways to escape this way of being in my next post. For now, I want to leave you with my reflections on what I have learnt today from my readings of the book.

In determining to be free of my problems, I want to make it very clear that I am not trying to find an easy way out. All I am saying is that I want to leave the regular day-to-day negative emotions of competitiveness, selfishness, pride, jealousy, and resentment. I am tired of living my life always feeling as though we are in a fight or flight mode with everybody else. I hate the fact that when the bus pulls up to the stop, and I have lined up for it, people rudely just push their way in so that they can find a seat. Wait your turn people! There is often more than enough room for everybody.

I am tired of all the negative attitudes out there and the "every man for himself" attitude we have nowadays. When I open my Facebook, I am bombarded with people's posts that mainly consist of "selfies"-pictures of themselves taken in front of a mirror, usually while wearing something brand name or skimpy. I don't understand the point of that. I don't understand the point of many things people do today. This unfortunately, makes me an "outsider" in society. I want to know your thoughts. Do you feel like this about the world nowadays? Do you feel like an observer of a crazy world, rather than someone who is a part of it? That also brings me to this question: Is it better to be part of a crazy world and immersing yourself in the craziness, or is it better to be an observer, rather than a participant?

What life feels like when I go outside...people worried about who's dating who, the latest fashion trends, phones, material possessions in general...
Isn't there more to life? Aren't there more important, interesting things to talk about? 

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Four Noble Truths and The Eight-fold Path

The essence of Buddha's teachings can also be described through the four noble truths. They are:

The truth of suffering (unsatisfactory experiences)
The cause of suffering (it is in our own mind)
The cessation of suffering and its causes (suffering is caused by disturbing attitudes and negative emotions)
The path to cessation (The path to realize reality and increase our good qualities is called the path of the Three Higher Trainings

The Path to the Three Higher Trainings that can increase our good qualities can also be further subdivided into the Eight-fold Path. I have tried to simplify and explain it as clearly as possible below. From what I understand, the four noble truths are another way to describe the essence of Buddhism and what its beliefs are about. These truths, which confirm that there IS suffering in the world, and this suffering is caused by our false views on reality, all lead to the exploration on how to stop suffering. The way to stop suffering is through the Path of Cessation, and to discover the path of cessation, one must undergo the Three Higher Trainings first. We can train our mind and bodies using the Eightfold path, which I find, is a more practical guide on how to approach the path to enlightenment.

The Three Higher Trainings
  • becoming a good human being who functions well in society and lives harmoniously with others.
  • taming the mind by developing single-pointed concentration now that our speech and actions are calmer
  • leads us to cut the root of suffering which is the ignorance in grasping at the inherent existence so that reality is perceived for what it really is 
  • right speech- true, kind, and appropriate speech
  • right activity- actions which do not harm ourselves and others 
  • right livelihood- obtaining our subsistence, food and clothes etc by non-harmful, honest means.
  • right effort-to counteract the disturbing attitudes and negative emotions by meditating on the path
  • right mindfulness-counteracting carelessness and excitement in our meditation
  • right samadhi-mind that can remain fixedly on one point or virtuous n
  • right view- wisdom realizing emptiness
  • right thought- the mind that can explain the path clearly to others and is motivated by the wish for them to be free of suffering

1.) The Higher Training of Ethical Discipline

2.) The Higher Training of Meditative Stablilization

3.) The Higher Training in Wisdom

We can train ourselves to achieve enlightenment and launch ourselves on the path to the cessation of suffering by using the Eight-fold Path as our guide. 

In order to train ourselves in Ethical Discipline, we can practice 

In order to train ourselves in Meditative Stabilization, we can practice 

In order to train ourselves in Wisdom, we can practice 

From what I understand from all of this, we need to take everything really slow, dear reader, and go one step at a time. So in the next few weeks, I will break down the eight-fold path and also bring in my own reflections and learnings as I continue on with my reading of the book. Please feel free to ask any questions, share your opinion or give me any advice, or even make any correction to what I have posted. I look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Buddhism for Beginners- An Introduction

Yesterday I started reading a book called 'Buddhism for Beginners'.

It is written by this lovely lady, the venerable Thubten Chodron.

I am only 2 pages into the book and have already received a lot of information, so I decided, in keeping true to the title of this blog, to simplify what I learnt from the book about what the basic essence of what Buddhism is. My motive for even beginning to read this book was that I am on a quest to finding a way of living a simpler, less complicated life. Why complicate something that can be so simple and easy?

I can just imagine the sarcastic laugh you're probably having right about now. After all, people have always been looking for that simple way to be and often we've been told that looking for the easy way out is never the answer. However, I really DO want a simple life. I feel like I don't really need much to be happy. As long as I have a roof over my head, enough food to eat (not that I eat a lot of it, but that's another story that we can get to another day) and clothes to wear, what else do I want? Of course there's a car needed to get around, maybe some other little things for the house, and some extra money for trips and traveling. I know that I really am not interested in marrying or having children. I like my independence and freedom too much to be tied down by anything as permanent as a husband and children.

So anyways, getting back on the first two pages of Buddhism for Beginners, let me start by explaining the basic essence of Buddhism.

This is broken down into this simple saying:

Abandon negative action;
such as hurting others, destructive motivations (anger, attachment, closed mindedness) and to stop harming ourselves and others

Create perfect virtue;
by developing beneficial attitudes (controlling of our anger, loving others, being compassionate, joyful and acting constructively

Subdue your own mind.
by understanding reality and leaving behind false projections, we can become calm and peaceful.

This is the teaching of the Buddha

Looking at this, it might look simple, but there are still the Four Noble Truths, and Eightfold Path to get into. However, we'll save that for next time. For now, let me conclude by saying that unlike most people, I really do not desire fancy cars, a big house, and endless amounts of luxuries. All I want is happiness and contentment with my life. I feel that the more material things we crave, the more unhappiness we are surrounded by. Rather that focusing on what we do have and the simple things that make us happy, like a beautiful sunny day or a really good book, we always are looking for that next thing that will make us happy. The next best cell phone, or a bigger house, or a better car. I really want to take a simplistic approach to living. Let me be an example to you that happiness can be achieved through simplicity rather than luxuries and material wealth.

I conclude with this quote for your contemplation :

"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."