As Stephen Batchelor, author of the brilliant but brief book, Buddhism Without Beliefs, wrote:
“There is nothing particularly religious or spiritual about this path. It encompasses everything we do. It is an authentic way of being in the world.”
Practical Buddhism, similar to its cousin Secular Buddhism, is not a religion, but a way of being in the world. Being in the world is very different from observing religious doctrine, dogma, and beliefs.
The former relies on the truths established in an earlier time by persons not encountered by the observer/believer. The latter relies on one’s own experiential knowledge to determine what is true.
Practical Buddhism is the reemergence of classical Buddhist life. It takes the robes and ritual out of daily life and focuses on the experience of living mindfully and compassionately reinforced by daily meditation.
The Four Noble Truths aren’t beliefs
Far from being established truths, the Four Noble Truths that the Buddha handed down are instead invitations to act and gain experiential knowledge.
Like a lot of oral teachings that were later recorded in written form, the Four Noble Truths became known as established truths, much like commandments, to be taken at face value because they were handed down by the Buddha.
But the truths are not established truths in that sense. Instead, they are simply what the Buddha experienced and later taught, not as precepts to be adhered to, but invitations to engage in the activities in order to discover what it true for the individual.
Noble Truth One: Life is filled with dissatisfaction (suffering)
- An invitation to understand our habitual reactions to suffering
Noble Truth Two: Suffering arises from our attachment to desire
- An invitation to let to go of attachment
Noble Truth Three: It’s possible to be freed from suffering
- An invitation to realize that we can alleviate the cycle of endless suffering
Noble Truth Four: The Eight-Fold Path alleviates our suffering
- An invitation to cultivate a life free of suffering
“The actions that accompany the four truths describe the trajectory of dharma practice: understanding suffering leads to letting go of attachment, which leads to realizing its cessation, which leads to cultivating the path. These are not four separate activities but four phases within the process of awakening itself.” ~Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism Without Beliefs
Buddhism isn’t a religion
The Buddha, through his own experiences, uncovered and formulated what he called the Middle Way, a mode of living that avoided the two extremes of indulgence and deprivation.
In his time, ascetics deprived themselves of food and water and sat for days and weeks in meditation hoping to discover an enlightened mode of life. In fact, the Buddha became an ascetic after he left his life of indulgence only to discover that both extremes led to further suffering.
The essence of the dharma -the teachings of the Buddha- is that life doesn’t have to be filled with the suffering that comes from attachment to our desires for a better tomorrow or an eternal reward in an afterlife, when our present can be completely whole regardless of our circumstances. It is only through this realization that we can be truly happy.
The Eight-Fold Path isn’t a catechism
The secular nature of Buddhist life doesn’t revolve around memorizing scripture, praying to Buddha (after all, he died a long time ago), or engaging in meaningless rituals.
Engaging in inappropriate, views, intention, speech, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and meditation are actions that reinforce one another.
The reemergence of Buddhist practice
Buddhism, in its classic form, wasn’t a religion. The Buddha didn’t appoint a successor for fear that doing so would create a class of elite practitioners (priests) and exalt himself as a god. Unfortunately, over the centuries that’s more or less what happened.
Buddhist traditions morphed and evolved over the centuries as a result of the national and cultural influences of the places where it spread. Today, most Westerners equate Buddhism with ornate festivals and incense-laden rituals and think that Buddhists pray to Buddha and revere him as a god.
This is unfortunate, but not irreversible. Through education and exposure to Practical Buddhism, people everywhere can encounter the original intent of what the Buddha experienced and taught.
They can experience for themselves a manner a living that frees them from suffering, from attachment, and begin cultivating of a life built on a path of discovery and freedom.
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