Because of the usual translation of the word ‘dukkha’ as ‘suffering’, Buddhism is generally regarded as somewhat pessimistic and negative in nature, but I like to think of the Four Noble truths of Buddhism as this:
1. Existence can be difficult.
2. Difficulties are caused by ‘Attachment’. That is, being attached to things or situations we have but are dissatisfied with; and being attached mentally to things and situations we don’t have but would like to.
3. There is a way to solve this problem.
4. The way to solve this problem is by what the Buddha called the Noble Eightfold Path.
The path involves attention to ways of living that can be allied to the Ten Commandments. These ways of living are prefixed by the word ‘Right’, which means that no harm comes to another being when practising the Eightfold Path.
First comes Wisdom – Right View and Right Intention.
This just means that we try to see things as they really are. To understand the laws of Karma and the transitory nature of worldly things and ideas. I remember the Clairvoyant/psychic George Steadman always prefixed his talks by saying, ‘Thoughts are Living things.’
Because of this our thoughts affect how we see the world, and react to it. Right View will lead to an acceptance of the world as it really is, not as we perceive it to be.
Right Intention means to resist the temptation to always view the world through our own emotional state, rather than as the world really is, thus leading us to quell the desire to anger, jealousy and harming others.
Next comes Ethical Conduct – Speech, Action, and Livelihood.
Right Speech can be seen in the Commandment not to bear False Witness, i.e. to stay away from lying and deceit. Not to slander others, or to speak angrily to another; especially to not spread gossip and, in today’s society, bigotry and lies against another religion or ethnic group. As the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke said, ‘All that must happen for tyranny to flourish is for good men to do nothing.’ So when we see wrong being done, when we see the weak oppressed by the strong, when we hear rubbish being talked about other religions or ethnic groups, we must speak out – by staying silent we give our unspoken approval of these lies and bigoted beliefs. This is Right Action – to speak out, and stop these stories from spreading!
Right Speech means that we should be careful, to ensure that whatever we say will bring happiness and not suffering, and the Commandment not to take God’s name in vain is contained within Right Speech.
Right Action involves our deeds and bodily actions. It means to be honest and compassionate. To respect the material blessings of another. To respect the beliefs and attitudes of others. As Jesus said, to treat other people as you would have them treat you. Right Action is contained within the Commandments not to commit adultery, not to steal, and not to kill.
As Sir Edwin Arnold puts it in his poem, “The Light of Asia”, the Buddha says. ‘Kill not, for pity’s sake, and lest ye slay the meanest thing upon its upward way. Give freely and receive, but take from none by greed, or force, or fraud, what is his own. Touch not thy neighbours wife, neither commit sins of the flesh unlawful and unfit.’ Which is just what it says in the Ten Commandments
Right Livelihood ensures that we earn our living in such a way as to do no harm to another being, or in any way that would go against Right Speech and Right Action. There is a tendency in our society for some people to profit at the expense of others – ignoring the ethics of what they may be doing, seeing money as the only criterion. Buddha taught that money should be earned legally, non-violently, harmlessly and honestly, as Jesus said, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.’ We aren’t always able to work in the caring professions, and we didn’t choose to come to Earth and be another Gandhi or Mother Teresa, but we can ensure that we avoid companies that trade in arms, and pollutants and those companies that harm people or animals. We should also take some time to thank God for all the material and spiritual blessings we have.
Lastly, Mental Development – Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration.
Without Effort, or a deliberate act of the Will, we can achieve nothing. The mental energy that fuels the negative aspects of our nature – anger, jealousy, envy desire – can also fuel the positives – honesty, self discipline, kindness and benevolence; and Right Effort can also enable us to overcome any negative thoughts once they have arisen. Right Effort leads us to positive behaviour.
Right Mindfulness prevents us from being carried away by our own misconceptions. The Buddha taught that Right Mindfulness is founded in contemplation of our body, our feelings, our state of mind, and the phenomenal world around us. Mindfulness enables us to steer the Middle Way through the extremes of being. As we have been told, ‘Thoughts are living things’, we constantly view the phenomenal world around us through the filter of our own lives and experiences, and very often this leads us to seeing things not as they really are. The other problem some people have is to think only about the negative things that may, or may not, happen. They say things like, ‘I knew that was going to happen – I’ve been expecting it!’ And the thing they have been expecting has happened because they have drawn it to them.
Right Concentration enables us to change our self-centred way of thinking. It enables us to avoid unwholesome thoughts as stated in the Commandments not to “covet thy neighbour’s wife,” etc. Meditation can help us achieve this.
The first three Commandments forbid the worshipping of images, and the instruction not to have other Gods before God. What, then do we make of the images and statues used in the Christian Church, are these against those first Commandments? Of course not – they merely give us something to meditate upon – to illustrate the history of Jesus, and the Saints, like Francis of Assisi for example.
The many gods, goddesses, devils and demons that are encountered in Buddhism are merely illustrations of the many and varied aspects of the ‘human condition’. Some of these statues or paintings can be quite frightening, as can be many aspects of humanity.
White Tara, for example is a female Buddha, and she embodies the virtues of healing both physical and mental ills. She is also known as the Mother of Mercy and Compassion, and as Buddhists gain comfort from Tara, so Christians gain comfort from the mercy and compassion of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
As to God Himself, the Buddha was silent, allowing us all to worship Him as we see fit, whether we call Him God, Allah, Kwannon, Yaweh or Great Spirit.
Many religions echo the teachings of the Buddha, especially looking after those in our society who are less fortunate than ourselves. As Jesus said, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ It is not enough just to worship whom we choose; it is not enough to profess that we hold one belief to be the only viable way to get to heaven – and if there were only one way, why is it that people who follow other religions get their prayers answered as well? To gain merit – to collect Spirit Coin – we must all try to help others in need.
The Seven Principles of Spiritualism teaches us Personal Responsibility – not only to accept responsibility for our lives, but to show that we are responsible for our own salvation not by worrying about ourselves and wishing our lives were otherwise, but helping our fellow beings overcome their suffering, and showing them the way to freedom and Enlightenment.