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Buddhism: A Path to Personal Freedom #fb

June 7, 2010

Recommended by one of my mentors…

Buddhism: A Path to Personal Freedom

by Alexander Green

Buddhism is more than just a 2,500-year-old Eastern religion. It is a philosophy, a code of ethics, a way of life. The Dalai Lama refers to it as a science of the mind.

The Buddha – who recommended a middle way between extravagance and asceticism – never claimed to be a deity or savior. According to Buddhist tradition, he was an ordinary human being who attained enlightenment and taught others how to live with wisdom and compassion.

He taught that wisdom begins with recognizing Four Noble Truths:

The First Noble Truth: There is suffering in every life.

The Second Noble Truth: Our suffering is caused by our attachments and cravings.

The Third Noble Truth: If we end our attachments and cravings, our suffering will end.

The Fourth Noble Truth: This can be achieved by following the Noble Eightfold Path to Enlightenment.

Eventually, we all must grapple with aging, pain, economic and personal setbacks, the loss of family and friends, and, ultimately, our own passing. The first two Noble Truths describe anguish and its origins, the second two its remedy.

And The Noble Eightfold Path? Here are the basics:

Wisdom Training

Step 1: Right View: See life as it really is, not just as it appears. Everything is impermanent. In the Prajna Paramita Sutras, the Buddha says, "Regard this fleeting world like the stars fading at dawn, like bubbles on a fast moving stream, like morning dewdrops evaporating on blades of grass, like a candle flickering in a strong wind…"

Step 2: Right Intentions: Approach others with compassion and understanding.

Ethics Training

Step 3: Right Speech: Speak the truth in a non-hurtful way.

Step 4: Right Action: Behave so as to harm no one. (Many Buddhists extend this to animals and the environment, as well.)

Step 5: Right Livelihood: Earn your living in a legal, non-deceitful way.

Personal Mastery

Step 6: Right Effort: Strive to improve your behavior and character.

Step 7: Right Mindfulness: Recognize that it is always now. Be awake to the present moment and act from a clear conscience.

Step 8: Right Concentration: Use meditation, a sense of dignity and personal willpower to act with integrity and overcome cravings.

What are these cravings, exactly? It varies. Your craving might be a Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT. Your sister’s might be fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. (I think we all know what Tiger’s is.) A craving, simply put, is any unhealthy desire, insatiable hunger, psychological fixation or addictive behavior.

Buddhism challenges us to understand the nature of our anguish and practice a more skillful way of living. If we fail to do this, we may drift through life in the grip of habitual impulses, living in a way that is both ignoble and undignified.

The Noble Eightfold Path represents a road to personal freedom. The goal is to break out of your routine, and reflect on "What am I here for? Am I living so that I can die without regrets? How much of what I do is compromise?"

In particular, Buddhists believe that by meditating on death, we become more conscious of life. In particular, you are encouraged to consider: Since death alone is certain and the time of death is uncertain, how shall I live?

It’s a sobering question, one that requires you to confront your mortality and recognize that not all of your desires are reasonable or even obtainable.

It’s important to have goals to work toward, of course. But according to the Dalai Lama, once our basic needs are met, we don’t necessarily need "more money, we don’t need greater success or fame, we don’t need the perfect body or even the perfect mate. Right now, at this very moment, we have a mind, which is all the basic equipment we need to achieve complete happiness."

Buddhism teaches that contentment is determined more by your state of mind than by external circumstances. Many of us fail to recognize how much our happiness is determined by the way we choose to perceive our situation.

And the solution is often simple: let go. (There is a Zen saying: Knowledge is learning something every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day.) To be free from delusions, fear, ignorance, pride, anger, envy and hatred is to be free from suffering.

None of these principles are incompatible with other religious beliefs, incidentally. This philosophy is not about accepting a particular creed or dogma, but rather about integrating a higher level of awareness into your daily life. The objective is to bring about an inner transformation, to perfect your heart and train your mind.

That’s why Buddhism is often referred to not as a religion, but as an ethical philosophy, a spiritual practice, or simply a path to inner peace and personal freedom. It offers nothing to believe and everything to discover.

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