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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Checklist

Right view
Right thought
Right speech
Right action
Right livelihood
Right effort
Right mindfulness
Right concentration

These are the eight elements of the Eightfold Path, which is contained in the Fourth Noble Truth; the path to the end of suffering. When you look at it, the Eightfold Path is not really all that different from the commandments in the Bible or any other moral code or rule of conduct. Buddhist monks have an even more intensive code that they must adhere to, but the Eightfold Path is plenty for the rest of us to work with!

Some of it makes practical sense. For instance, right speech and right action are what most of us who are trying to be better human beings aspire to. "Do the right thing" seems to be a common catch phrase these days, and so for the most part the Eightfold Path, as with many Buddhist teachings, is a fairly pragmatic code.

They are not in any particular order, but the first on the list, right view, is the one I have probably worked with the most. The fact is that you can't expect to deal with your circumstances or your problems if you are not seeing them clearly in the first place! If you are besieged with anger, jealousy, grief or any negative emotion, it clouds your view and it renders any attempt to resolve your situation next to impossible.

That is not to say that we shouldn't feel what we feel. In fact, we need to allow these emotions to come, and then to go...as with everything else in life, emotions are not permanent, not static. What we want to avoid, however, is elevating them; making them worse or hanging on to them for too long. This for many people is a difficult thing to do. I know that I have at times practically relished in my own anger. Sometimes it feels good to be angry!

Anger, if not kept in check, can also become quite addictive. Most of us eventually get over our anger or grief, but what is it that drives some people to extremes? For instance when it comes to livelihood, every time there is a serious down turn in the markets, you hear about somebody at Wall Street actually jumping out of a building and committing suicide. "Going postal" is a phrase which has become commonplace when people lose their jobs.

One more recent story in the US is about a financial manager who was being investigated for scamming his clients. He got into his private plane and while he was in flight, he radioed into air traffic controllers to say that his window had blown in and he was bleeding profusely. When they tried to contact him, there was no response, so they sent military aircraft to track the plane and found it was flying on auto-pilot with the door open! He had obviously jumped.

To make a long story short, the authorities realized he was trying to fake his own death, and when they finally found him he was in the wilderness in a tent having cut his wrist in a suicide attempt. 

What would drive a human being to such extreme behavior? We might write them off as mentally ill in some respect, and perhaps that is true in some cases. I'm not a psychologist by any means, but I would venture to guess that most of them simply paint themselves into a emotional corner and can't see any other way out.

Being able to see clearly, right view, is a first step in any kind of emotional recovery. I'm referring to job loss and the pitiful state of the economy because this is what is first and foremost affecting my life these days. But any difficulty, from the smallest to the largest, means a battle with the mind for most of us and this is what much of Buddhism entails; working with the mind. What has helped me quite a bit over the last few weeks is putting a halt to my temptation to look any further than the moment I'm in. Be here now. When I focus my attention this way, I see and feel everything that I have right here, and I have a lot. In fact, I have everything I need, and even more than I need!

The chances are pretty high that I'll continue to refer to Buddhist teachings as I understand them in the following blog entries, but as I said before I'm not an expert. If you are interested in more in-depth studies, I recommend a couple of websites.

The first is BuddhaNet which is a great resource for practitioners or newbies like me. There are links, readings, an e-book library (which I've been a frequent user of!), a directory, audio talks and even more.

Another site I've spent some time perusing is the Berzin Arhives which essentially contains the teachings of Dr. Alexander Berzin. These teachings are more in-depth and cerebral, but Dr. Berzin has an intimate knowledge of the orginal teachings, having translated a number of them over the years.

One of my favourite teachers, however, is Ajahn Sumedho. He has a website called the Forest Sangha and his teachings are so readable and inspiring. A "sangha" is a community of Buddhists and Ajahn Sumedho teaches in the Theravada tradition which I seem to be drawn to. As with most of the world religions, there are many traditions, and branches of traditions which have been created over many years. I don't expect I'll ever figure them all out, but that doesn't matter. You take what you need and leave the rest...that's always been my motto!

And I hope you will do the same. If there is something here that helps you or inspires you, that's all that matters!

IJ