Most of us feel pressure, stress, and uneasiness in our lives as a constant presence. It's always there, even when we are otherwise happy, it lurks below the surface as an underlying sense of dread or irritation. This is what the Buddha called suffering - dukkha.
If we look closely we will see that destructive emotions such as anger, anxiety (fear), jealousy, shame, stubborn pride (ignorance), or depression are the cause of this sense of uneasiness.
The Buddha offered the Eightfold Path as a means of relieving this suffering. The steps and a description of this path are linked above and are well worth investigating and practicing, but often in the Western world we have trouble understanding how to incorporate them into our lives. I would like to offer a method to begin to ease our daily struggle, a means of taking the load off and relieving our suffering so that we may see clearly and proceed on the path to realization and enlightenment. This is by no means a substitute for the tried and true Eightfold Path, but a reworking or simplification of the beginning steps for the Western person as a place to start.
A. Practice morality so that you don't have strong feelings of guilt and fear. To begin one might take the the following basic vows:
- I vow not to kill or harm other sentient beings.
- I vow not to steal or take what is not given to me.
- I vow not to misuse sexuality.
- I vow not to become intoxicated.
- I vow not to lie or mislead others with my speech.
B. Practice generosity. As we practice generosity we learn that we are not separate and that we have the power to help others. Generosity gives way to an open heart and helps us to feel our personal power. It opens our hearts to an abundance mindset as opposed to a fearful, scarcity frame of mind.
C. Practice patience. Patience and understanding go hand in hand. Together they lead to compassion and understanding of the human condition. From here springs love and joy.
D. Look deeply for understanding. Meditate, observe and mull your mind. Sit quietly to calm your mind. Notice your mind and look at what is happening in there. Finally question and understand. Are you angry? At who and why? If you look deeply you will understand that other people are not the actual cause of your anger, they might be the trigger, but it is your own thoughts and beliefs that make you angry. No one can cause an emotion in you without your mind's cooperation. Can you change your beliefs? Each destructive emotion is created by our mind. Anxiety is caused by focusing on the future instead of the present moment and/or desiring for things to go a certain way - you are resisting reality. Take responsibility for your emotions and investigate their causes. Research each destructive emotion and learn the antidotes.
E. Meditate upon the Four Immeasurables. They are Love, Joy, Compassion, and Equinimity which is a calm mental state.
I have used the above steps to focus my practice and give it some foundation for a while now and have found it life changing. Taking responsibility for my experience in the world has been huge. Now I have incorporated the path of the Bodhisattva to further my understanding. An alternative might be to take up the practice of LoJong or mind training.
I wish you well.
Just as the Buddhas of the past
Have brought forth the awakened mind,
And in the precepts of the Bodhisattvas
step-by-step abode and trained
Likewise, for the benefit of all beings
I will bring to birth the awakened mind
And in those precepts, step-by-step
I will abide and train myself.
~Shatideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva
Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living
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