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An end to suffering: 10 quotes on Buddhist philosophy

It's not what you have, it's what you do with it.

buddha statue
  • Buddhism has been applied differently across the planet as it enters new cultures.
  • The underlying philosophical foundation is applicable to diverse situations, whether religious or secular.
  • But it is a practice, not a belief, and must be treated as a discipline for retraining consciousness.

As with most articles, I posted my recent piece on busyness being a modern sickness on social media. I've generally learned to not pay attention to comments, though on personal pages I occasionally check in as thoughtful dialogues occur, as in this reply:

I think this is good stuff Derek, but bear in mind with the economy we are in, with low income, high debt ratio, many people do have to work more, have second jobs etcetera, just to have basic needs met. They aren't trying to have more money to invest, or save, or to take on vacations, they are just trying to pay monthly bills. Our economy not only promotes business, in many cases, it's demands it for survival.

All pertinent points. Her reply made me think about the conditions under which Buddhism were created in India, under a restrictive caste system in which social mobility was impossible; a state-sanctioned support system for the religious—Buddha's sangha became particularly well-funded—though lavishness, even in the Buddha's camps, was nowhere in sight. It was customary to support spiritual beggars, but that came at its own costs. Forget women seekers, at least until the Buddha's time, when he controversially accepted women into his community.

Spiritual practices have never come easy. Many disciplines emerged as responses to challenging external circumstances; they were not dreamed up when everything was good. This thought remained in mind as I flipped through volumes in my library seeking quotes on the nature of suffering in Buddhism. In a binary world, there is pain and then freedom, but that's not what Buddhism teaches. Liberation is not a static state; rather, it's a hard-won discipline that must be reapplied daily.

Which the sentiments below reflect. The notion of a better historical time is notoriously misleading; it harkens back to the American "golden age" that never really existed. Context is important—some just have it better than others—yet we all suffer in some capacity. The practice isn't what we do or do not have, but what we do with what is presented to us, as well as how we craft the reality that is possible.

One

Nirvana, "blown out," is the term for liberation or release from the endless cycles of rebirth. It is applied differently dependent upon one's feelings on the metaphysics of reincarnation. Stephen Batchelor is most well-known as a proponent of secular Buddhism.

The experience of nirvana marks a turning point in an individual's life, not a final and immutable goal. After the experience one knows that one is free not to act on the impulses that naturally arise in reaction to a given situation. Whether one chooses to act on impulses is another matter. — Stephen Batchelor, After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age

Two

The koan is a sort of riddle used in Zen Buddhism to create doubt in the student's mind. It is often nonsensical on the surface, designed to provoke insights, not necessarily be answered. D.T. Suzuki is credited with being one of the first figures to spread Zen to the West.

To measure the koan by an intellectual standard, as you ordinarily do with other things, to live your life up and down in the stream of birth and death, to be always assailed by feelings of fear, worry, and uncertainty, all this is going to your imagination and calculating mind. You ought to know how to rise above the trivialities of life, in which most people are found drowning themselves. Do not waste time asking how to do it, just put your whole soul into the business. — D.T. Suzuki, Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D.T. Suzuki

Three


Mark Epstein is a psychotherapist who has used Buddhism extensively in his practice. He began practicing Buddhism in his early twenties.

The freedom the Buddha envisioned does not come from jettisoning imprisoning thoughts and feelings or from abandoning the suffering self; it comes from learning how to hold it all differently, juggling them rather than cleaving to their ultimate realities. — Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life

Four

Philip Kapleau moved to Japan in 1953 to devote himself to Zen, later becoming one of America's foremost teachers in the tradition.

Pain when courageously accepted is a means to liberation in that it frees our natural sympathies and compassion even as it enables us to experience pleasure and joy in a new depth and purity. — Philip Kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment

Five

Pankaj Mishra is an Indian novelist and essayist who dedicated years studying Buddhism's modern relevance in the West for this book.

For [the Buddha], neither God nor anything else had created the world; rather, the world was continually created by the actions, good or bad, of human beings. He didn't dwell on large abstract questions, preferring to goad the individual into facing up to his immediate situation. — Pankaj Mishra, An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World

Six

The British-American philosopher Alan Watts left the Episcopal church as a priest to focus on Eastern philosophy, especially Zen Buddhism and Taoism.

A person who is escaping from reality will always feel the terror of it. — Alan Watts, Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion

Seven

The "Awakened One" is a Buddha; the term signifies the practitioner, not a historical figure, though the term is generally applied to Siddhartha Gotama. The German Indologist's Heinrich Zimmer's work was posthumously collected and edited by his good friend, Joseph Campbell.

So far as the Awakened One is concerned, the notion of Awakening is at bottom as devoid of meaning as the notion that there is a dreamlike state that precedes it (the state of ordinary life—our own attitude and atmosphere). It is unreal. It does not exist. It is the sail of the nonexistent raft. The Buddhist yogi is taught, by means of the disciplines, to realize, within, such a peace as one perceives looking outward into the vast ethical realm with its sublime display of transient forms. — Heinrich Zimmer, Philosophies of India

Eight


Travel writer Pico Iyer has been a family friend of the Dalai Lama since the early seventies and has traveled extensively with him.

Don't expect the world to fit its needs to accommodate you; work your needs around the circumstances of the world. — Pico Iyer, The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

Nine

Richard J. Davidson is the leading proponent in studying meditation and neuroscience; he is the figure responsible for first scanning the brains of monks in the nineties. He began studying Buddhism and meditation in the seventies with his friend, Daniel Goleman, though the two could not discuss it for decades given their roles in academia—a position that has fortunately changed.

We live in a world our minds build rather than actually perceiving the endless details of what is happening. — Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body

Ten


The Dalai Lama has said that if science proves a Buddhist concept inaccurate, it is Buddhism that must evolve. He has worked extensively with scientists of all disciplines in finding common ground between factual evidence and applied philosophy.

The great benefit of science is that it can contribute tremendously to the alleviation of suffering at the physical level, but it is only through the cultivation of the qualities of the human heart and the transformation of the attitudes that we can begin to address and overcome our mental suffering. — Dalai Lama, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality

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