Saturday, December 20, 2014

Book: Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen is a great introduction to the principles of Buddhism, a way of thinking that is centered on the realisation that humans have set ourselves up to never be satisfied.

The one aspect of the book I take issue with is the how Hagen describes the notion 'right view', which he says is the idea that we can see reality for what it is if we strip away our conceptual thinking and if see with actual experience rather than what we think.  The idea states that we are already enlightened with this underlying truth and we have the capacity to see this unshakable reality, and in so doing we can achieve a certain freedom of mind, which is a step too far for my rational way of thinking.

To me, the awareness aspect is about no more than being present, and living a richer, balanced, calmer life. It is not about tuning in to an underlying reality beyond to me is about contemplative appreciation for the interconnectedness, ephermal and interchangeable nature of  everything - I agree that this is not a underlying truth that we can fully appreciate just by thinking; it takes learning and contemplation both.

In contrast, the author states that:  'Liberation of mind is realising that we don't need to buy any story at all. It's realising that before our confused thought, there actually is a Reality. We can see it. All we have to do is to fully engage in the moment as it has come to be."  This is a step too far in my eyes, as there is no ultimate reality beyond our senses that we can tune in to, and reality is different for each of us (at the extreme, animals see the world completely differently to us, and one perception isn't necessarily 'truer' than another). He also states that 'To explain Reality is to box it up and cart it away. It's to ignore the reality for the map.' I can't buy into this. Surely our understanding of concepts such as impermanence are enriched by our understanding of the moving of atoms, natures cycles etc. .

Despite this little critique, this is a cracking book.

- When Buddha was asked to sum up his teaching in a single word, he said, 'Awareness'. ...It's not about belief, doctrine, formula, or tradition. It's about freedom of mind.

- Buddha is not someone you pray to, or try to get something from. Nor is Buddha someone you bow down to. A buddha is simply a person who is awake - nothing more or less.

- Buddhism is not a belief system. It's not about accepting certain tenets or believing a set of claims or principles. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It's about examining the world clearly and carefully, about testing everything and every idea. Buddhism is about seeing. It's about knowing rather than believing or wishing or hoping.

- The message is always to examine and see for yourself.

- The point of Buddhism is to just see - that's all.

- The buddha-dharma does not promise to make our lives problem-free. Rather, it urges us to examine the nature of our problems, what they are and where they come from. The buddha-dharma is not an armchair philosophy. It isn't pipe dreaming. It's about getting down to basics and acting on them.

- Generally we think of a journey as involving movement and direction, either going out somewhere in the world or else leading inward, into the self. But in Buddhism our journey must go nowhere - neither in nor out. Rather, ours is a journey into nearness, into immediacy. Our journey must be to awaken here and now, to awaken to here and now. To be fully alive we must be fully present.

The question is: how do we do it?

In order to experience the answer to this question for yourself, you must come to three realisations. First, you must realise that life is fleeting. Next, you must understand that you are already complete, worthy, whole. Finally, you must see that you are your own refuge, your own sanctuary, your own salvation.

- You don't have to look 'over there'. You don't have to figure anything out. You don't have to acquire anything. And you don't have to run off to Tibet, or Japan, or anywhere else. You wake up right here. In fact, you can only wake up right here. ...The table is spread before you.

- For example, suppose you notice, 'I'm craving pizza now'. That's fine. Just notice it. But we don't usually stop there. Rather than just seeing, we act upon what we notice instead: 'I shouldn't be wanting pizza. I must stop this desire for pizza.' This very reaction is more craving. We're desiring an end to desire. We're doing the usual thing again - reaching for, insisting, grabbing. This is bondage, not freedom. This is a subtle but crucial point.

- This is not a call to complacency or inaction. To act or not to act is never the question. You can't help but act. The question is whether you see. The entire issue rests on this.

- If we're not careful, we make our lives busy, complicated, and unnecessary. We fill ourselves with a sense of vacancy and meaninglessness. Our minds become complicated by petty details and wants, and we become ever more confused. But in our quiet moments, we sense that no freedom lies in maximising petty choices. It's the wrong game plan...and we know it.

- Recall that everything we see, hear, feel, and think is in constant flux and change. Nothing endures. We long for permanence and as a result we suffer, for we find none. There seems to be only this coming and going, coming and going, this unending arising and ceasing.

- If we satisfy one craving, another arises to take its place.

- ...just follow the breath. As you do, thoughts will arise. Don't be bothered by them. Don't think they're bad, or that you shouldn't be having them. Don't try to drive them away. If you leave them alone, they'll depart of their own accord. This is how to 'cease all the movements of the conscious mind'. You cannot do it by direct application of will.

If you find you've been distracted by thoughts and feelings, and have forgotten your breath, just come back to breathing. There's no need to scold yourself that you wandered away. To scold yourself is to wander away again.

...As you meditate, all kinds of self-comments may arise: 'There I go again' or 'I can't do this' or 'I'm not very good at this' or even 'I'm not sure I'm doing this right'. These comments are quite normal. Observe them, and let them go - they will depart, if you let them.

Don't strive for some special state of mind. There is no special state of mind. If you strive for some special state of mind you'll only disturb your mind.

- The deep, hollow ache of the heart arises from a life in search of meaning. But it's by our very desire to find meaning that we create meaninglessness. The very idea of looking for purpose and meaning arises from our deluded thought.

- We shouldn't make the buddha-dharma in to something holy, something to put up on a gilded pedestal in a prominent place.

The path simply reminds us of how we're engaged in the world. It's like the raft that carries us to the opposite shore. We use it to a point, then leave it behind. Once the stream is crossed, we leave the raft for someone else. We don't need to lug it around. It will only burden us.

- Whatever you can point to - a physical thing, a person, a though, an emotion - all are without self. All of them change. Even memory shows nothing but flux and change. There's nothing, no component of mind or body, that isn't in constant flux. Whether we talk about our physical body, or the bodies of the natural world - animals, plants, stones, lakes, raindrops, stars - or the objects of our purposeful world
- chairs, windows, milk cartons, and sewing needles - we find nothing but flux and change. Every atom, every minuscule part of the universe, is nothing other than movement and change. The same is true of our mental experience, our feelings, thoughts and images.

It's an indistinguishable fact of experience - of our direct, immediate perception- that all things are empty of self. Yet we think and believe and act and hope otherwise. It's by holding onto this notion of self - and we hold it most dear - that we live in defiance of Reality.

This is the means by which we suffer, and suffer greatly. It hurts to defy Reality.

- We experience dukkha because, not seeing the true nature of things, we long for something permanent, something that doesn't change. Yet our actual experience provides nothing but change.

Because of this basic confusion, we long for something we can get our hands on. We want to hold it, to cling to it. What we love, we want to last. What we hate, we want to get rid of forever.

Because of change, however, what we hate can't be forever kept away, but returns. Because of change, what we love doesn't remain, but surely fades. If we'd only relax, we'd notice that, because of change, what we love continues to appear, and what we hate never lasts forever. We'd also observe that there's no abiding self to be either pleased or damaged.

This is what we have to see - that all is flux and movement and flow. It's because we believe there's some static being in the midst of all this - an imagined permanence we call 'I' - that we suffer dukkha.

- Waking up to Truth isn't painful. It's through our confusion about Reality that we suffer, not through Reality itself.

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