Buddha’s teachings, found in the Eightfold Path, can inspire solutions and guide action to bring about urgently needed change.
Once upon a time, in a world vastly different from our current pandemic times, we explored the origin of the idea that the world is an illusion.
We visited Plato and Descartes to examine their mind-bending arguments on this topic.
The tour was put on hold as normal life was upended by COVID-19.
Now, as we gather in solidarity to call for justice and equality, it feels a bit challenging to perceive the world strictly as an illusion.
But it’s always advantageous to review ancient wisdom to gain new insights and to find a way forward together.
So, we’ll head East to visit a philosopher whose teachings have inspired millions for centuries.
Siddartha Gautama/Buddha (5th – 4th Century BC)
The life of Buddha is legendary. And it may well be in part since there were no written records from his lifetime. However, many of you may be very familiar with his story.
Born Siddartha Gautama in Nepal, he was raised in wealth and power. However, he was shielded from life outside of the palace walls until he decided to venture out as a young man.
This was his first encounter with human suffering.
Siddartha was shocked by the physical and emotional anguish that he confronted. In seeing an elderly man, it was the first time he learned that people grow old.
Wanting to explore further, additional trips exposed him to disease, death, and asceticism.
Inspired by an ascetic’s renunciation of the world to release the fear of death and suffering, Siddartha left his wife and son to follow a spiritual path.
He committed himself to an extreme ascetic life—restricting food and water—for six years.
Yet, Siddartha did not attain the spiritual insights that he sought. He came to the conclusion that moderation was the best policy.
Unwavering in his determination to attain spiritual truths, Siddartha meditated under a Bodhi tree for days without stop.
During this inner journey, he received the answers that he’d been looking for: he understood the true nature of reality and suffering.
Becoming the Buddha
At this point, Siddartha became the awakened one—the Buddha—as he was now awakened to reality.
He also achieved nirvana—or enlightenment—meaning release from the desires, attachments, and hatred that perpetuate the cycle of birth and suffering.
He then set out to teach others about living a life of balance—the Middle Way.
For the remainder of his life, Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths to guide others in their personal journey to enlightenment.
1) The Truth of Suffering (dukkha)
Life is challenging and often dissatisfying. And when we are happy, it is fleeting.
2) The Cause of Suffering (samudaya)
Suffering is caused by desire, attachments, and hatred.
3) The End of Suffering (nirhodha)
This is achieved by letting go of all attachments and desires. In this state of nirvana, we hold compassion for all living things and are released from the cycle of reincarnation.
4) The Path That Frees Us from Suffering (magga)—also known as the Eightfold Path
This is the core teaching of Buddhism that consists of eight principles promoting the Middle Way:
#1: Right Understanding – the acceptance and practice of Buddha’s teachings
#2: Right Thought – commitment to compassionate thinking and wisdom
#3: Right Speech – being truthful and avoiding hurtful, disparaging language
#4: Right Action – the promotion of ethical and peaceful conduct
#5: Right Livelihood – earning a living in a way that does not harm others
#6: Right Effort – cultivating a positive state of mind and overcoming negative thoughts
#7: Right Mindfulness – becoming aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, body, and physical sensations
#8: Right Concentration – developing the mental focus required for awareness/mindfulness
A New Path Forward
This is my interpretation as A Course in Miracles student; however, these are exceptional personal steps to undergo mind-training.
In other words, they teach us to shift from thinking with the wrong mind (the ego) to thinking with the right mind (the higher self).
Thinking with the right mind inspires new ideas and solutions, as well as guides actions.
Moreover, following this path of mental discipline brings greater inner peace, happiness, and psychological freedom.
During these revolutionary times, Buddha’s teachings to develop mental discipline, ethical conduct, and wisdom are instructive.
They can guide us in collectively finding a way forward to bring about justice, protection, and equality for all that is long overdue.