This is a brilliant little book. The sections on Buddhist history and art didn't tickle my fancy but two-thirds of the book were spot on, with straight forward explanations that made concepts easy to grasp.
Buddhism began with Siddhartha Gautama (563 BC - 483 BC) as a way of thinking and not as a religion. While the religious and spiritual aspects have grown and evolved over time, the core focus remains on the four noble truths and on changing how you think by following the transformational eightfold path. Buddhism is all about 'waking up' to reality and it is this appeal to internal experience and cognitive development that I find attractive, along with idea that Buddhism is fluid framework that should be left behind for findings more useful; the analogy of thinking of Buddhism as a raft is often used - once you have crossed the river with it, you don't need to keep carrying it on your back.
For more useful information go to : http://www.buddhanet.net/
Also see Sam Harris on why Buddhism should be done away with as a religion. I'm with him on most of his points, and also view Buddhism as 'nothing' more than a kind of contemplative science.
Some notes and quotes
The Four Noble Truths
These are at the core of Buddhism.
1. Recognise/Accept and face the suffering in life.
Trauma of birth, pain and discomforts of sickness, fear of death, suffer from things we dislike, suffer from separation from things we love.
2. Recognise the roots of suffering.
Contemplate impermanence and how lasting satisfaction is evasive.
3. Explore how to put an end to suffering.
Appreciate things as they are, letting go of craving and the hating of suffering. Get the most out of the moment.
4. Define a method that will lead to an enlightened life, happy and free from suffering.
Buddha offered the eightfold path.
The Eightfold Path
Not about following in sequence, but about doing all together.
Right Views: About awareness of attitudes, evaluating attitudes and developing right attitudes.
Right Intent: About examining your intent and motivations (wholesome?) and summoning the right intent.
Right Speech: About listening to your internal speech, hearing the tones, words of yourself and of others, recognising obstacles to right speech, and changing toward right speech. (e.g. truth, harmony, vs criticising, gossip, etc).
Right Action: Avoid destroying life, don't steal, etc (5 precepts)
Right Livelihood: Avoid causing harm, assess the work you do, work with awareness, etc.
Right Effort: Starts with resolve, a decision and a commitment (when you really want something you will usually try to get it); setting yourself for full engagement. Work is required to overcome 'blocking' habits. Training of attention is key. Practise focusing on one thing around your for a few minutes, and then direct the power of attention to the steps on the 8-fold path.
- An approach to life, orientating yourself with alertness and complete presence, deepening your life experience (vs being foggy and vague and driven by impulse.)
- Involves being observational and non-judgemental, and not jumping to conclusions of others or yourself.
- Try observing yourself (physical + personality) factually and non-judgementally, in the moment. Pay attention to the details (posture, etc).
- Delve into mindful breathing. Benevolently observe mindfulness of feelings; pleasant (2ndry reaction: don't want to stop - clinging); unpleasant (2ndry reaction: want to stop - reject); neutral. Build awareness by noticing your feeling and thinking, your mental processes and perceptions. You can start to drop the -ve states. Think about the impermanence of your feelings. Emotions are an important part of living.
- Meditation can free us from our mental constructions, bringing us back to the emptiness.
- Use to move to tranquility and emptiness. Clearing the mind. It is a calming pause in your daily activities that may be transformational.
- Try different types of meditation and see what works best e.g focus on breath, outer objects, guided, etc.
- Meditation is a skill that responds well to practice.
- Don't try, just do.
- Notice thoughts and let them go. Over time, your thoughts will slow down.
- It (emptiness) is the absence of individual things as independent of everything else. ...It is not a negative quality, like something that is missing and should be there.'
- 'Emptiness is the fertile ground for all that is. It is the shared essence that puts everything and everyone around us on an equal footing.
- 'Objects have a dependent existence, moment to moment, a temporary existence. But no timeless essence in a material world actually exists. Things don't just stop existing when they don't function or are outdated. Instead, objects change, moment to moment. The relationship between an object's elements and its use is all that there really is, with no timeless essence apart from the interdependency.'
- On Empty ego: ' Empty nature does not mean a loss of individuality. Everything exists at each moment, uniquely as it is.'
- On Empty ego: (Abe, 1995, 213) 'Realisation of egolessness is not something negative like losing one's self-identity, but rather is positive in that through this realisation one overcomes ego-centeredness and awakens to Reality.'
- Emptiness as the Middle Way: 'The multitude of things that seem to exist are actually impermanent experiences, empty of any true existence. But even though things don't exist in a lasting, absolute sense, they do have a temporary existence. The world of reality is more than mere appearance. It is there momentarily, in the present moment, just not for all time. Since everything is ultimately nonexistent, but also temporarily existing, a Middle Way, or mean, comes into being.
The Middle Way is a shift in perspective to the center. Seek the balance point. When you return to the center and work out a solution from there, you are not trapped any narrow biases, and you do not need to avoid potential problems. For a moment, stay in the center and let go of commitment to any particular perspective. Form the foundation of the center, you can build a new adjustment. Then change is possible.'
- Emptiness leads into suffering, and emptiness also shows the way out of suffering.
- Tranquility arises from emptiness...you do not need to be held back by what has been, because all things change and evolve. ... People sometimes worry that tranquility will be boring. But a tranquil mind is not a motionless mind. Rather, it means being free from obstructions, unhampered by inner pressures. The tranquil mind can be active or quiet - whatever is needed to meet life, fully and dynamically.
On Meditation and Craving
- 'A calm, enlightened mind creates a calm, enlightened world.'
- Meditation helps to overcome attraction to pleasure and aversion to pain. We can use it to learn detachment and experience emptiness.
- 'Wisdom is found by entering the void'. Emptiness brings awareness. You kind of need to travel through the darkness vs avoiding the difficulty of confronting the void. Emptiness is the source of calm and quiet. Enjoy the process as it unfolds.
- The number of things we need to have is small and number of things we want to have is large. This is a source of craving. When you have craving, sit down and meditate and see if the pull is reduced. Observe and question why you have the craving and work through it - you developed the craving, so you can detach from it.