Friday, March 28, 2008

Buddhism and the Great Outdoors

I have been reading the book The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac and have become absorbed in the philosophy of Buddhism. For years now whenever I am asked what religion I am by a person who is very religious and I don't feel comfortable saying "atheist" to them I will tell them I am Buddhist. It's not a lie either. I believe in the philosophy of the Buddhist traditions and their road to enlightenment even though I hardly ever meditate and I sometimes get over involved in materialistic ideas.

Buddhism is not a religion, however. Religion is defined as "the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods." In Buddhism there is no worship of a God but instead it is the practicing of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as Buddha. There are four basic principles that underlie the Buddhist philosophy that are called the Four Noble Truths. Though, there really is only one basic underlying theme of Buddhism and that is finding truth, or put differently: understanding reality.

The First Truth: There is suffering in life.
My life has been wrought with suffering, though that is of course relative, i.e. compared to billions of other people on earth I have lived quite nicely and my suffering would be laughed at by many as inconsequential. But again, suffering is relative and everyone suffers in life. The first truth is so self-evident that it almost does not need to be mentioned if not for the the second, third, and fourth Truths.

The Second Truth: The cause of suffering is craving.
If you did not crave that cool toy you saw on TV as a kid then you would not be upset if your mother told you that you couldn't have it. Likewise, all negative emotional feelings are driven by craving as well; break-ups being a prime example. When one person leaves another but the other person craves to be with them still it causes an intense amount of personal and emotional suffering. There is good news however:

The Third Truth: Suffering can end.
We get over our problems eventually though some problems take longer than others and sometimes a new problem arises that diminishes the extent of suffering from previous problems. There can be a state of no suffering as well, this is called nirvana, and it is to be strived for.

The Fourth Truth There is a path that can be followed that leads to the cessation of suffering, nirvana.
The path is called the Noble Eightfold Path and I will talk about it in a second. This Fourth Truth and the Eightfold Path is the essence of Buddhism.

Really quickly, from Wikipedia, the Noble Eightfold Path:
1. Right Speech—One speaks in a non hurtful, not exaggerated, truthful way.
2. Right Actions—Wholesome action, avoiding action that would do harm.
3. Right Livelihood—One's way of livelihood does not harm in any way oneself or others; directly or indirectly.
4. Right Effort/Exercise—One makes an effort to improve.
5. Right Mindfulness/Awareness—Mental ability to see things for what they are with clear consciousness.
6. Right Concentration/Meditation—Being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion.
7. Right Understanding—Understanding reality as it is, not just as it appears to be.
8. Right Thoughts—Change in the pattern of thinking.

It all seems very self-evident. And in fact it is. But when is the last time you focused really hard on making sure you were really following these guide lines? Not many people do, I know I am constantly forgetting to watch myself and do the right thing. If you follow these eight rules then you will achieve nirvana. Of course you have to follow them all the time and that can be a little difficult (we are only human after all). does this relate to the great outdoors as I put in the title of this post? Well, back to the Dharma Bums novel I am reading, Jack Kerouac writes very descriptively about nature and the wilderness in the mountains of Northern California and I have decided to follow in his footsteps. Soon I will be starting grad school (to study biochemistry--one of the best ways to understand reality and the ultimate Buddhist career) but before that I will be taking some time to travel and relax. One of the ideas that I have been talking about with a friend of mine is to go on a long hike. To get back to nature. To meditate by living in the absolute silence of the woods. What better place to do that than in Yosemite National Park? It also happens to be fairly close to where my family lives so I can see them again as well. While I am out there I can clear my mind of the cluster-fuck of bad thoughts that have recently been gracing my usually tranquil mind. I can work on bettering myself and be far enough from distractions that I won't have to focus too hard on most of the Noble Eight paths. Hopefully, and I believe likely, I will reach a state of nirvana. I've experienced this before by hiking 56 miles through the mountains of New Mexico, 36 miles around Mt. Rainier, and a beautiful 30 mile beach hike along the Pacific Ocean of Washington State. Many other hikes and camping spots have brought me much pleasure as well but I think it takes a few days of exhausting hiking and observation of nature to really learn to respect it and understand it.

The greatest patience is humility. -Atisha


John Barleycorn said...

Good for you, chief. Escaping the smog and death of the city is always a good idea. I'm envious of your week-long fishing trip.

Buddhism, indeed, sounds like the way to go. But I believe honesty occasionally hurts, even if spoken well, so I have an inky dinky problem with the first step in the eightfold path.

That and I don't like being told how to live my life.

Andrew said...

Truth can be hurtful as well, I agree. So it can be a hard toss up between not hurting someone by what you say and by telling the truth. However, if you strictly follow the Eightfold path then you would never need to lie because you would never do anything that could be potentially hurtful to others. As I said though, we are only human and that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to actually follow all the time.

I don't like being told how to live my life either but I do agree that the steps in the Eightfold path are a good guidance, even if not strictly followed. Similar to the ten commandments and some other religious philosophies of morality--basic moral understandings, e.g. do unto other as you would have them do unto you. And other such clich├ęs.