Religious Beliefs

Could you sum up the Buddha’s classical teaching on how a “good” life might unfold?

Any person who wishes to make sense of life must begin by hearing the dharma, seeking to understand the teaching of the utterly trustworthy Buddha. Translating the teaching into action means abiding by the fundamental recommendations and rules of conduct for living a moral life. Moving a step beyond the “ethical minimum” requires a person to seek greater personal discipline by guarding the senses and doing whatever is necessary to avoid the subtle corrosion of evil influences. That in turn inevitably leads to a higher level of mindfulness and awareness of each moment. This may seem at first to suggest a bland, even incredibly boring, life. But Buddhist tradition insists, paradoxically perhaps, that this alone can offer genuine appreciation and enjoyment— true bliss. Only such enlarged awareness is really worth the name “living,” for everything else is life on autopilot, a sure recipe for stress and frustration.

At some point the seeker will need to pursue serious training in meditation. Meditative discipline aims immediately to help the seeker identify and neutralize sources of anxiety and uncertainty. A kind of spiritual map for serious seekers is called the “Twelve-spoked Wheel of Conditioned Arising.” It describes in schematic fashion the cycle by which ignorance gives rise to intent to act, which in turn gives rise to consciousness, awareness of name and body, capacity for sense contact, actual contact, sensation, craving, grasping, becoming, birth, old age, and death. The seeker must in effect work backward through the chain of conditions to eliminate the ignorance at the root. Those who persevere along this path hope to arrive at a genuinely contemplative approach to life and, ultimately, at spiritual liberation. This classical teaching clearly lays out a difficult and demanding path. Relatively few are able to follow it consistently. That is one of the reasons that more popular forms of Buddhist devotion and practice have had a broader appeal.


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