Buddhism is a religion/philosophy of lists. Historically, the lists start with the enlightenment of the Buddha (aka someone who is enlightened and does not have to reincarnate again). Buddha is not a god. Buddha is someone who, over hundreds of lifetimes, achieved enlightenment. Buddha said that there are four noble truths:
1) Life is ultimately unsatisfactory. Everyone has pain, in one area of life or another, and we will all ultimately die.
2) Desire/attachment causes suffering. This covers not only wanting what other people have, but that mental/emotional block that we all have from time to time – the thoughts we cling to when we struggle to sleep for example.
3) The end of suffering is attainable. Here it is worth mentioning the word isn’t “pain” but “suffering”. The difference between is: pain is unavoidable but suffering is how we think of pain, which can be avoided. The end of suffering is attainable.
4) Suffering can end by following the Eight-Fold Path. See what the Buddha did there? Straight from one list into another.
The Eight-Fold Path is also known as the path to Enlightenment.
1) Right view – understanding how suffering comes about and how to reduce and eliminate it.
2) Right intention – the resolve to give up the causes of suffering.
3) Right Speech – aim to speak more skilfully
4) Right Action –aim to behave more skilfully – avoid killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. (Because sexual misconduct may be misunderstood – there are only a few rules here for lay people: Don’t have sex with people who are married or engaged. Don’t have sex with people who are supported by their parents. Don’t have sex with someone against their will. That’s it.)
5) Right Livelihood – Avoid jobs that cause suffering (such as a bartender – alcohol is frowned upon because those who drink are more likely to say/do things to increase suffering. The act of abandoning your control and giving way to saying something unskilful is the thing to avoid here. You might also avoid working in, say, a slaughterhouse because killing animals is the cause of their suffering.)
6) Right effort – prevent/abandon unskilful thoughts (based in greed, lust, hatred and delusion) Cultivate skilful thoughts (which are based in love, generosity, compassion and wisdom).
7) Right Mindfulness – Never being absent-minded – be conscious of what one is doing at all times.
8) Right Concentration – practicing the various meditations to lead to equanimity of the mind.
Points 1-2 are the starting point to enlightenment: becoming aware of suffering and resolving to give up the causes of suffering. This does not mean that you “check out” of this world! It means that you are taking a more considered approach to the physical world.
Points 3-5 deal with personal discipline and these can be observed by others. People who are good at these points may display:
1) Loving kindness – intentional and unconditional acceptance for the person being loved without wanting to change them.
2) Compassion – practice activities that reduce suffering.
3) Sympathetic Joy – is happy for others without judgement
4) Equanimity – their minds are not repulsed nor attached.
Points 6-8 deal with meditation. These skills are developed in the mind and may not outwardly be easily seen.
I’m afraid I still have a lot to work on. But at least I’m following something that feels right.