I watched a terrific PBS Emmy-nominated documentary called The Buddha(2010).
The show described the life of Prince Siddhartha from India about 2500 years ago and his “quest for serenity and eternal enlightenment.”
There were two highlights that I feel are really worth noting:
1) The Story of the Glass:
Prince Siddhartha saw a glass and marveled how it held the water, how it made a distinct ringing sound when tapped, and how it so beautifully reflected the light off of it.
After this, he imagined what would happen to the glass if the wind or shaking knocked it down and it shattered.
Then he realized the reality of this world is that the glass was (as if) already broken, and that we should appreciate the goodness of the glass all the more while it is still whole.
I loved this story, because it so encompasses Buddhist thinking in terms of its seeking to overcome human loss and suffering.
Like the glass, the reality of this world is impermanence and therefore, it is as if we have already lost all the people and things we love–therefore, we should appreciate them all the more while they are here.
Further, we can learn to cope with these feelings of (eventual) loss and suffering by ending material cravings and instead seeking out inner tranquility and spiritual enlightenment.
2) The Story of the Four Meetings:
The Prince who had been pampered his whole life (up until about the age 29) and had only known pleasure–the finest food, clothing, and women–until one day he went out and meet four people.
– The first was an old man and so, he came to know how people change.
– The second was a sick person, and so, he came to know how people suffer.
– The third was a corpse, and so, he came to know impermanence and death.
– The fourth was a spiritual seeker, and so he came to know escape.
I thought this story was profound in understanding the cycle of life–from birth to maturity and ultimately to decline and death.
And in order to escape from the loss and suffering (that occurs again and again through the continual cycle of birth and death and rebirth), we must seek to liberate ourselves from materialist desire, greed, envy, and jealousy.
These things ultimately causes us to sin and suffer and if we can break the cycle by meditation, asceticism, and spiritual wisdom, then we can find true inner peace and achieve nirvana.
Some personal takeaways:
While I am no expert nor a practitioner of Buddhism, I do appreciate the Buddhist teachings and try to integrate it where possible with my Judaism, so that I can find meaning in the path toward spirituality and faith in G-d.
One of my personal goals is to overcome the senseless drive for chasing endless materialism for it’s own–and ultimately–meaningless sake, and instead be able to really focus and achieve something meaningful.
I believe that meaning is different for each individual, and is part of our path of finding ourselves and our in place in this universe.
(Source Photo: herewith attribution to Christos Tsoumplekas)
Some great Buddhist philosophical insights here for keeping perspective on life and work and remaining personally selfless, detached from transient things, and constantly self-improving (from The Big View).
1. Life means suffering.
To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.
The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short:craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a “self” which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call “self” is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.
The cessation of suffering can be attained through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment. The third noble truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering. Attaining and perfecting dispassion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it.
There is a path to the end of suffering – a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely “wandering on the wheel of becoming”, because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.