While on a trip to Thailand and Cambodia recently, I was immersed with the culture and religion of Buddhism. Giant gold statues of Buddha and ornate illustrations decorated temples and offered sanctuary for travelers and natives alike as they came to give offerings and receive blessings from the enlightened being.
Buddhism, much like Christianity, has blended ritual with a reinterpretation of the original message in an attempt to appeal to the masses. Additionally, as with all things involving truths, perspectives over time have shifted the original message to accommodate the intentions of others who often have had differing agendas then raising the consciousness of a society. Gold, offerings, ornate structures and a strong emphasis on materialism were not quite what Buddha had in mind. Regardless, one can still access the three fundamental teachings that Buddha focused on in achieving the keys to enlightenment.
The Nature of Impermanence
One of my favorite insights to greater awareness is the idea, also known as the Law of Nature that simply states that everything in the universe is constantly changing. However most of us resist strongly the notion of change. We attempt to hold very tightly to our primary relationship (whether it’s working well or not). We have a strong desire to stay permanently fixed in our job or career (again, whether it’s a source of fulfillment or not). We sell out to sameness, safety and comfort at the expense of expansion and change. We do this even with awareness at a deeper level that all things are constantly changing! How insane for us to think that we can override ‘what is’ and create anything that remains permanent and fixed when everything around us reminds us that nothing can remain forever as it appears now.
Seasons come and seasons go. All of life ebbs and flows. Yet we construct societies based on predictability and stability only to lose it all to an “unforeseen” natural disaster. We construct our lives around attachment to our mate, children, career and possessions. We are often blindsided when our partner decides to leave because they’ve changed their mind about the relationship or our boss informs us that we’ve been ‘let go’ or the reality of an empty nest hits when the children leave for college. We hold onto ‘things’ as though they can bring us happiness and connection. And when life changes…we endure depression and anxiety about the ‘unfairness of it all’. IF we were being honest with ourselves, we’d see the crystal clear reality that tomorrow is never promised to any of us. As part of our human nature, we’ve developed a strange sense of entitlement along the way and expectation that we can possess that which is un-possessable!
None of the constructs we build are really ours. We do not ‘own’ our relationships or our children or the jobs we hold. Buddha was indeed enlightened to see the true nature of the world. The ‘what is what’ of life. Despite his great teachings and the teachings of other great Masters, we still live a life contrary to this truth. We still remain confused, angry and resentful when life shows us repeatedly that our attempt to bypass this law will only result in additional pain. We don’t shift our mindset or alter our navigation of the path ahead. That would be too simple! We did our heels in harder to change reality instead of working with what is. Surely our determination and need for control will override universal law. We will conquer logic and truth or remain miserable trying…
The second insightful tenet of Buddhism instructs us that nothing is worth being or doing. But how can that be so? I’m certain I will reach the pinnacle of happiness when Oprah calls, I win the lottery, I get that attractive guy, I climb to the highest rung on the corporate ladder, I have a child, I buy a house, I graduate college, I start my own business, I retire, I wear only Prada…
No state is worth being or doing because a) no state remains constant and b) no matter what you get, have, do or be – you will ALWAYS want more! You will always feel a sense of not being satisfied. When Oprah calls, you will find annoyance in the fact that it took her so long to discover you. When you win the lottery, you will be inundated with “family and friends” you never knew existed…all sense of privacy and freedom – gone! When you get the hot guy, you slowly discover his interior doesn’t match his exterior. He lacks loyalty and the same values as you. When you climb to the highest rung on the corporate ladder you realize that you’re scared of heights! When you have a child, you learn the true meaning of give until it hurts. When you buy a house, you discover maintenance, expense and what it means to spend your weekends taking care of doing maintenance to protect your largest expense. When you graduate college, you learn that your future’s so bright you gotta wear shades, just like the 10 million other recent grads competing with you for jobs. When you start your own business you take on responsibility for the all and learn what it means to wear 10 different hats, none of which quite fit. When you retire…you have a moment of intense clarity (after keeping yourself distracted and busy for the past 40 years) where you breathe in, honor the moment of peace and wonder “Now what?” And finally, when you only wear Prada and the new fall line makes you look frumpy or old…what are you to do?
The nature of desire is that when we live our lives in constant pursuit of it, we can never quench our thirst. If we thought through the fact that everything we ‘think’ will get us to the fixed point of fulfillment, won’t, we would have an easier time navigating life without buying into the illusion, deception and mirage. The concepts of having, getting, being and doing are what contribute to the misery and suffering we experience. In truth, if our search for fulfillment is based on desire, all the things we chase after will eventually lead to a state of unsatisfactoriness. Be fulfilled in the present moment, with all the beautiful gifts around you that are blessing you each and every day. Your ‘someday’ is not out in front of you, it is with you NOW.
Non – selfhood is the concept of Oneness. While we appear as individuals, separate from the all, in truth we are all connected, we are all one. This is a difficult concept for many as the thought of being connected to every other living being scares them. If the citizens of our lovely planet understood this at a deep level we could no longer war against each other, have crimes against humanity, sell human beings into slavery and treat each other with the cruelty and evil that we have for thousands of years. We might actually have to take responsibility for our behavior toward other living things and treat them with respect, love, kindness and peace. When we loathe another, we loathe ourselves. When we hate another, we hate ourselves. Whether a concept you are willing to accept or not, every relationship provides a reflective mirror back to you to bring awareness to qualities that you haven’t owned about yourself.
Buddha emphasized non-selfhood as it relates to holding onto things and claiming ownership. If we remove the illusion of separation that we have bought into, life from the perspective of an individual not connected to the all, then we can obtain “emptiness of any essence that we might have a right to cling to with all our might as being “mine.” What would our world look like without the need to fight over land, resources, possessions and people? How would the concept of Unity unite us towards cooperation and a sense of community?
Over this Thanksgiving holiday as you are surrounded by family and friends, I encourage you to reflect on the nature of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-selfhood. What can you let go of that you’ve been holding on to? Anger, resentment, jealousy? What desires can you release that promise the illusion of fulfillment? Can you visualize an energetic connection of oneness with your family, a ball of white light encasing all of you with peace, love and joy?
May your time with family be blessed this holiday as you take in all that you have to be thankful for…Happy Thanksgiving!