So I had heard of Buddhism before, but had never done more than cursory reading on the subject. Civilization IV’s inclusion of religion as a game concept probably offered me what amounts to the largest exposure to the name, but I never bothered, even then, to read deeply into it. It was only after meeting Buddhists that I chose to read into the subject a little, and I learned a few key things:
- The Buddha was a man, not a god (prime-mover or otherwise). He was born into the lavish life of a prince, but gave it up to seek a simpler, spiritually peaceful life.
- The Buddha did not suggest worship of any form of deity, instead declaring that salvation from the suffering of existence could only be found in the mastering of one’s own mind. He taught the method by which this could be accomplished, and these practices, with some variation, are still taught today.
- This salvation (enlightenment) is found, at least in part, in the limiting [and eventual renunciation] of sensual pleasures which are in and of themselves, or in the desire and seeking for, suffering or the cause of suffering.
These three ideas speak volumes to me, as I can look back on my life and see that much of it has been pursuant of money, possessions, praise, affection, and even sex. All sensual pleasures, the longing for causing stress, the having of causing fear of loss, and the loss of causing sadness and grief. Mindfulness of this has brought to my attention many of my motivations for doing things, which in turn has helped me refrain from many actions that are hurtful to others.
Reading about and practicing the Five Precepts, for instance, has helped me learn to feel compassion for all beings (even the ones regularly served as food), to have a greater respect for people’s possessions (even those that are intangible), to know and limit lustful thoughts, to realize when I’m exaggerating or about to say something otherwise untrue, and to see the damage alcohol was doing to my mental state (among other things). Some of these things I knew about but didn’t care, and others were “just in my mind,” so they were “OK” before. I take these things a lot more seriously than I ever did before, and I feel like I’m a happier person for it.
I’m learning, daily it seems, that the less stuff I accumulate, the less stress I have in life. Often we buy things thinking we need them, but we really just want, want, want. When we get what we want, we’re happy for a little bit, but then we want something bigger, or we find reasons why what we have isn’t quite perfect, or we worry about what we will do when it gets broken or in what ways it might get stolen.
So, to recap, as I look at Buddhism, I see a belief system that stops shy of declaring good and evil, instead referring to thoughts and actions as skillful or unskillful. It does not seem to deny the existence of gods, but implies that their worship is not necessary for enlightenment. It teaches me of a world-system that is not inherently fair, in that not every being alive today is equally equipped to obtain the ultimate salvation, but also that every being has the opportunity to keep trying, and that over numerous lifetimes, every being that obtains the human state may strive for it. Further, it reinforces an idea that I have had for years: all of this commercialism, over-stimulating sensuality, and materialism is causing delusion, lust, craving, and hate in unimaginable quantities and the only way to live rightly is to renounce it.
Buddhism presents me with a structure that places all of the responsibility on me. No matter what anyone might teach me, only I can change the behavior of my mind. Only I can tame it, no one else can do the work for me or simply wave their hand and make me perfect.
Further, and in closing, I have come to see through my practice of Buddhism that I do not have to see religion as a me vs. them, or Buddhism vs. Christianity, sort of thing. Many religions seem to say that they are 100% right, making every other religion 100% wrong. I think there is a lot of good that can be done in the name of any faith, and maybe a lot of bad too when perversion and delusion sets in. Ultimately, I’m a lot busier focusing on the positive points of all religions I come into contact with now, and I’m happier for it. Seeing others as wrong just because they don’t share your view is delusion that breeds hate, and today the world has one less hater in it than it did last year.
Thank you all for bothering to read any of this. I hope you are well today and find peace.