Buddhism: A way of life
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Buddhism: A way of life

Buddhist teachings state that suffering, illness & death are inevitable

Buddhism: A way of life

Today, on Buddha Poornima, let’s see how Buddhism has emerged as a way of life for many, and how Buddhist teachings have impacted the youth to calm their minds through spiritual practices. By the way, did you know that the word Buddha means the 'Awakened One'?  

A monk from Namgyal monastery situated in Mcleodganj, Dharmshala, on being asked the meaning of Buddha and Buddhism, said, “The Buddha did not teach that a god created the universe. He pointed to a great law or 'Dharma' running through everything that exists.” 

He said that it is by living in accordance with this law that true wisdom and compassion and hence freedom from suffering may be achieved. Suffering may only be overcome, however, by being confronted and lived through. 

In the Buddha's words: "Suffering I teach and the way out of suffering." 

In the current times of fear, anxiety and isolation here are five teachings that can help people to be calm:

Acknowledge the fear

Instead of reacting with fear, Buddhist teachers advise working with fear. As Theravada Buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm explains, when “we fight the world, we have what is called suffering,” but “the more we accept the world, the more we can actually enjoy the world.”

Buddhist teachings state that suffering, illness and death are to be expected, understood and acknowledged. The nature of reality is affirmed in a short chant: “I am subject to aging … subject to illness … subject to death.”

This chant serves to remind people that fear and uncertainty are natural to ordinary life. Part of making peace with our reality, no matter what, is expecting impermanence, lack of control and unpredictability.

Thinking that things should be otherwise, from a Buddhist perspective, adds unnecessary suffering.

Practice mindfulness & meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are key Buddhist teachings. Mindfulness practices aim to curb impulsive behaviours with awareness of the body. With the practice of mindfulness, one could become more aware and avoid touching the face and washing hands.

Meditation, as compared to mindfulness, is a longer, more inward practice than the moment-to-moment mindful awareness practice. For Buddhists, time alone with one’s mind is normally part of a meditation retreat. Isolation and quarantine can mirror the conditions necessary for a meditation retreat.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, advises watching the sensations of anxiety in the body and seeing them as clouds coming and going. Regular meditation can allow one to acknowledge fear, anger and uncertainty. Such acknowledgment can make it easier to recognise these feelings as simply passing reactions to an impermanent situation.

Cultivating compassion

Buddhist teachings emphasise the “four immeasurable”: loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. Buddhist teachers believe these four attitudes can replace anxious and fearful states of mind. When emotions around fear or anxiety become too strong, Buddhist teachers say one should recall examples of compassion, kindness and empathy. The pattern of fearful and despairing thoughts can be stopped by bringing oneself back to the feeling of caring for others.

Phap Linh, another Buddhist teacher, advises that this could be a time for all to take care of their relationships. As compassion is important even as we maintain distance. This could be done through conversations with our loved ones but also through meditation practice. As meditators breathe in, they should acknowledge the suffering and anxiety everyone feels, and while breathing out, wish everyone peace and well-being.

Understanding our interconnections

Our survival depends on one another, and when we feel a sense of responsibility toward everyone, we understand the concept of interconnection as a wise truth. 

Buddhist doctrines recognise an interconnection between everything. The pandemic is a moment to see this more clearly. With every action someone takes for self-care, such as washing one’s hands, they are also helping to protect others. The dualistic thinking of separateness between self and other, self and society, breaks down when viewed from the perspective of interconnection.

Use this time to reflect

Isolation in the home is an opportunity to reflect, enjoy the small things and just be. In these times of uncertainty, Buddhist teachers argue, there can be good opportunities for putting these teachings into practice. 

Individuals can transform disappointment with the current moment into motivation to change one’s life and perspective on the world. If one reframes obstacles as part of the spiritual path, one can use difficult times to make a commitment to living a more spiritual life.

Poonam Chaddha, a young believer and practitioner of Buddhism, talks about the noble eightfold path in Buddhism and the wheel that’s the Dharma. The wheel is shown with eight spokes which represent the eight factors including right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. 

Chaddha says that she believes dharma comes from karma and for that one needs to control three untamed fires that’s within us. She shares that in Buddhism these fires are known as desire/thirst, anger and delusion. 

There is a saying in Tibetan, "Tragedy should be utilised as a source of strength." No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful the experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.

Dalai Lama XIV – “Happiness is not something readymade. It comes from your own actions.”