Life is a journey, and along the way, there may be obstacles or difficulties. Many people grow up watching movies, reading fairy tales and generally having fantasies about how life is “supposed” to be or how it should work.

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Buddhist philosophy suggests that we take a look at our lives in a different way. Although many Buddhists have faced extreme persecution in spite of their non violent beliefs, they continue to reflect the truth of the world beyond illusion.

One of the main ideas in Buddhist philosophy is embracing the yin and the yang, the positive and the negative situations in life. This is the key to contentment, which is described as the greatest wealth a person can attain. [1]

There’s no use in worrying

Anxiety and thoughts do not help us in our purpose and can in fact hold us back. It’s a waste of time that won’t change anything. Instead, we are encouraged to cultivate equanimity. Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hahn says to remain in the present moment and to not worry about future conditions of happiness. “Worrying does not accomplish anything. Even if you worry twenty times more, it will not change the situation of the world. In fact, your anxiety will only make things worse. Even though things are not as we would like, we can still be content, knowing we are trying our best and will continue to do so. If we don’t know how to breathe, smile,and live every moment of our life deeply, we will never be able to help anyone. I am happy in the present moment. I do not ask for anything else. I do not expect any additional happiness or conditions that will bring about more happiness. The most important practice is aimlessness, not running after things, not grasping.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

The key to happiness is seeing reality for what it really is

Escaping samsara involves looking at reality and embracing the truth of what we see. Focusing on our opinions and thoughts, instead of what really is, does not accomplish anything. We should be open minded to whatever truth comes out.  Many people try to ignore reality, and stay in a perpetual state of “positive thinking.” Instead, Pema Chödrön says to “We have two alternatives: either we question our beliefs – or we don’t. Either we accept our fixed versions of reality- or we begin to challenge them. In Buddha’s opinion, to train in staying open and curious – to train in dissolving our assumptions and beliefs – is the best use of our human lives.”

We need to actively accept change

There are many cliches that are not grounded in actual truth. One of which is, “people don’t change.” The eternal nature of life is change. Everything changes, from the weather to our stages in life. Accepting and embracing change allows us to create the lives that we want.

Daisaku Ikeda is a Buddhist that says, “Buddhism holds that everything is in constant flux. Thus the question is whether we are to accept change passively and be swept away by it or whether we are to take the lead and create positive changes on our own initiative. While conservatism and self-protection might be likened to winter, night, and death, the spirit of pioneering and attempting to realize ideals evokes images of spring, morning, and birth.”

Suffering is caused by pursuing temporary feelings

Material attachments may feel good, but ultimately are the root cause of suffering. The feelings of excitement and euphoria don’t compare to the peace and contentment that following the dharma can bring about.  Yuval Noah Harari describes the state of not seeking here, “According to Buddhism, the root of suffering is neither the feeling of pain nor of sadness nor even of meaninglessness. Rather, the real root of suffering is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of ephemeral feelings, which causes us to be in a constant state of tension, restlessness and dissatisfaction. Due to this pursuit, the mind is never satisfied. Even when experiencing pleasure, it is not content, because it fears this feeling might soon disappear, and craves that this feeling should stay and intensify. People are liberated from suffering not when they experience this or that fleeting pleasure, but rather when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings, and stop craving them.”

Suffering is reduced by meditation

There are many benefits to meditation on a health level. It is also one of the fundamental components of Buddhism and other spiritual practices. It helps us to be aware that our thoughts and emotions do not control us. Meditation brings peace and enlightenment. Yuval Noah Harari says about meditation, “This is the aim of Buddhist meditation practices. In meditation, you are supposed to closely observe your mind and body, witness the ceaseless arising and passing of all your feelings, and realize how pointless it is to pursue them. When the pursuit stops, the mind becomes very relaxed, clear and satisfied. All kinds of feelings go on arising and passing – joy, anger, boredom, lust – but once you stop craving particular feelings, you can just accept them for what they are. You live in the present moment instead of fantasizing about what might have been. The resulting serenity is so profound that those who spend their lives in the frenzied pursuit of pleasant feelings can hardly imagine it.”

References:

  • Once you learn these 5 brutal truths about life, you’ll be a much better person (according to Buddhism), Lachlan Brown, Hack Spirit, March 2019
  • The Greatest Wealth is Contentment: A Buddhist Perspective on Poverty, David Loy, Upaya, October 5, 2011
  • “Buddha”, Pursuit of Happiness
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