Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Defining characteristics.


Buddhism is known as a way of life characterized by wisdom and compassion. Two valid questions are, wise about what? And what is the basis of Buddhist compassion? Hopefully we can be wise about many things and the more wise we are the less trouble we create in the world, and that’s a good thing. But Buddhist wisdom is not broad-spread wisdom about everything but rather concerns being wise about the cornerstone of life: the rudder that guides our ship.

In a very real sense, life is a gamble. We can’t know the future so we roll the dice and bet on the outcome. And this quandary ordinarily concerns material prosperity. The presumption here is the more stuff we can accumulate the more fulfilled we will be.

Buddhist wisdom turns this proposition on its head, first by understanding that the fundamental nature of all matter is change: Here today means gone tomorrow and clinging to what is ephemeral creates suffering. The second dimension of Buddhist wisdom takes us to compassion. Why should we care about someone else? Isn’t it enough to take care of our own business? And in today’s world taking care of our own is becoming more and more difficult.

The principle of independence seems to imply separation and independence is the premise of individuality: everyone doing his or her own thing. Again Buddhism turns this premise upside down by noting that everything is interdependent. In truth nothing can possibly be independent, in spite of our wishes. No one is an island. Compassion is the bridge that spans the apparent gap separating us from one another.

Zen takes us to the base of this union. The source of our actions (how we relate to each other) is thought. And the source of thought is MIND. These three are connected. Mind creates thought and thought creates action. At the deepest part of mind there is unity. There is no such thing as “my mind”. This “my” is an illusion of identity but it seems very real. Buddhism teaches that there is only one true mind and it is here where unity exists.

The problem is that most people understand mind as their thoughts and emotions and these manifestations are unique and individual. By identifying with our thoughts and emotions we create separation, alienation and the corresponding attitude of me against the world. The result is greed, anger and delusion—the three mental poisons which are wreaking our world today.

True compassion arises from the base of true mind—where we are all one. And wisdom is the result. We become wise when we experience unity and realize that when we care for another we are literally caring for our self. And the flip side of this realization is the awareness that when we harm another we bring harm to our self.

The command by Jesus “…in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you...” is the same as the Buddhist prescription. If we wish to change our world from a factory, which produces greed, anger and delusion, the solution is that simple. What we put out comes back to us because at the deepest part of existence we are united. When we experience this unity our thoughts change from “me, me, me” to “us, us, us” and this shift results in an action of caring, both for our self and for others.
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