Buddhist Basics

What is Buddhism?

What is Buddhism?” is actually a difficult question to answer. Depending on who you ask, where they’re from, what their school/tradition is, and the amount of knowledge and understanding they have, each person will probably have a different answer. A basic answer is this: Buddhism is a religion, a philosophy, a psychology, and a way of life. It is the practice of love; loving-kindness and loving-compassion. It is the practice to live in peace and bliss. A more complex answer would be: Buddhism is a practice of psychology, of the mind. It is a mind-centered religion aimed at eradicating the three poisons (ignorance, greed, and anger) that cause us to suffer and live in this cyclic existence of death and rebirth.

The Buddha taught that the main factor contributing to suffering is desire. Desire is what causes us to want the things we can’t obtain and the things that we can obtain, we always want more of it or wanting the newest things. These desires turns into greed, and when our greed isn’t satisfied, we become angry. Our anger causes us to be ignorant towards the true nature of reality. So Buddhism is the practice of spiritual development that leads to the insight into the true nature of reality. A practice to teach us how to escape suffering, eradicate our ignorance, greed, and anger, and ultimately to become enlightened.

Unlike most other religions that base their faith in a god or deity, Buddhism is not a faith-based religion towards a higher being for one’s liberation or access to heaven or a better life. Instead, Buddhism takes a firm stand that the only way towards our liberation or a better life is faith in ourselves. There is no god or deity figure in Buddhism. Buddha was not a god or a mystical being. He was human; he cried, bled red, got sick, and died just like a human. Relying on gods was not useful for those seeking enlightenment, the Buddha taught. What makes him extraordinary is his realization to the path to escape our constant birth, death, and rebirth. The main focus in Buddhism is in the practice (self-inquiry and experimentation in the teachings) rather than belief and faith.

The best way to explain Buddhism to people is to show them. Not showing them statues or relics, but rather the observation people make of you over time. Because Buddhists are constantly practicing loving-kindness, compassion, and generosity, and never swaying towards anger, frustration, or impatience, this simple way of living is the essence of being a Buddhist and the best way to show people what Buddhism is.

The foundations of Buddhism is in the teachings of the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination. These basic yet complex Dharmas can liberate us on a basic level and put us on a path of greater understanding. It is very important to truly have a strong grasp and understanding of what might seem like “Buddhism 101,” but this 101 information is the foundation of anything else we will learn.

The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths (catvāri āryasatyāni) is the central doctrine of Buddhism. The Four Truths explain the nature of suffering (dukkha), its causes, its cessation, and the path to its cessation. Our suffering, or unsatisfactoriness, has three main aspects: 1) physical and mental suffering of birth, aging, sickness, and death; 2) attachment to things that are constantly changing; 3) and the dissatisfaction of everything that is impermanent, transitory, and not meeting our expectations.

The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering (Dukkha). For non-Buddhists or those new to it might take a dramatic reaction to the word “suffering,” because they might think of suffering in its literal sense of pain, gore, and torture. But suffering here means “dissatisfaction.” One thing to remember here is that our own mind causes it. So what is suffering? In the physical sense, suffering is physical pain, injury, sickness, old age, and of course death. Mentally, suffering is disappointment, jealousy, depression, sadness, fear, anger, frustration, etc. There are many degrees of suffering, but life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete. “But life isn’t always suffering – there are moments of happiness and contentness,” we might say. That’s exactly what it is! MOMENTS! They are imperfect, impermanent moments that will eventually fade away. TheBuddha taught that unless we can gain insight into truth of reality and what is able to give us happiness and was is unable to give us happiness, the experience of unsatisfactoriness will continue.

The Second Noble Truth is the cause, origin, roots, creation, or arising of suffering (Samudaya). The main cause of suffering is attachment and desire. It’s the attachment to transient things, not only physical transient objects, but also objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. Other reasons for suffering are craving, as well as striving for fame or glory, and pursuit of wealth and prestige. Because there is attachment to these transient objects, their loss is inevitable, thus causing suffering. The three main causes for suffering are the Three Poisons: ignorance (avidya), greed/attachment (raga), and anger/aversion (dvesha).

The Third Noble Truth is the cessation of creating suffering by refraining from doing the things that make us suffer (Nirodha). Cessation is the spiritual goal in Buddhism. Once we have truly understood the causes of our suffering, we can then eradicate these causes and be free from suffering. The cessation of these sufferings can be attained through nirodha; the unclinging to sensual craving and conceptual attachment. This means that suffering can be ended by extinguishing all forms of clinging and attachment.

The Fourth Noble Truth is the path that leads to refraining from doing the things that cause us to suffer –The Noble Eightfold Path (Marga). It is the path of the Middle Way between the two extremes of excessive sensual self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism), and will lead to the end of Samsara (the cycle of rebirth). The Noble Eightfold Path is a practical guide, that when developed together, leads to the cessation of our suffering. The path are not “stages” that we can move from one to another, instead, they are dependent on one another to work as one complete path or way of living.

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path (āryāṣṭāṅgamārga) described by the Buddha is the path that leads to the end of suffering. It is a practical guideline for ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing ourselves from the Three Poisons (ignorance, greed, and anger). The Eightfold Path is not a step-by-step practice, it is practiced holistically. To have a right view or perception of something, we must also have right thinking, right speech, and right action in order to have right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

The Eightfold Path is grouped in three groups that will lead us to enlightenment: Morality/Ethical Conduct (Sila), Wisdom (Prajna), and Meditation/Concentration (Samadhi).

• Wisdom (Prajna) – Right View and Right Intention.
• Morality (Sila) – Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood.
• Concentration (Samadhi) – Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

1. Right View (samyāg-drishṭi)
Right View is the deep understanding to see things as they really are, to deeply understand the Four Noble Truths. Right View is first because we need Right View to see and understand everything before we think it, speak it, do it, and live by it. It is to understand how our reality, life, nature, and the world as they really are – to see these things as impermanent and imperfect. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Right View is also the ability to distinguish wholesome roots from unwholesome roots (or seeds) deep within our consciousness.

If we are honest people, it is because the wholesome root or seed of honesty is in us. If we live in an environment where our seed is watered, we will become honest people. But if our seed of dishonesty is watered, we may deceit those we love and care about. We might feel bad or guilty about it, but if this seed of dishonesty is strong, we may do it anyway. Practicing mindfulness helps us identify all the seeds in our consciousness and water the ones that are the most wholesome

2. Right Intention (thinking) (samyāk samkalpa)
Right Intention refers to the volitional aspect; the mental energy to control our actions. This is the commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement; ridding ourselves of whatever qualities we know to be wrong and immoral. If we train ourselves in Right Intention, our Right View will improve. Because thinking often leads to action, Right Intention is needed to take us down the path of Right Action.

Right Intention reflects the way things really are, but the practice of Right Intention/Thinking is not easy. Our mind is often thinking of one thing while our body is doing another. Our mind and body are not unified. When we’re driving, we might be singing along to a song or swearing at other drivers while almost completely forgetting that we’re driving! Conscious breathing is an important practice. When we concentrate and become mindful of our breathing, we bring mind and body back together and become unified again.

There are three types of right intentions:
1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire.
2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion.
3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.

3. Right Speech (samyāg-vāc)
In short, Right Speech is:

1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully.
2. to abstain from speaking with a forked tongue; saying one thing to one person and something else to another.
3. to abstain from harsh and slanderous speech.
4. to abstain from exaggerating or embellishing speech; to not dramatize unnecessarily, making things sound better, worse, or more extreme than they actually are.

4. Right Action (samyāk-karmanta)
Right Action refers to doing wholesome, compassionate deeds. Right Action can also refer to the Five Precepts. The Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta states to:

1. to abstain from taking life (harming sentient beings and suicide).
2. to abstain from taking what is not given (stealing, robbery, fraud, dishonesty).
3. to abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. to abstain from consuming intoxicants.

5. Right Livelihood (samyāg-ājīva)
Right livelihood means that one should earn one’s living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason:

1. dealing in weapons.
2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution).
3. working in meat production and butchery.
4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore, any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided.

6. Right Effort (Diligence) (samyāg-vyāyāma)
To some, Right Effort should be the First of the Eightfold Path, because Right Effort is the individual’s will to achieve wholesome ethics and deeds. It is the mental effort and energy in doing wholesome or unwholesome thoughts and deeds. It’s the same energy that fuels desire, envy, violence, and aggression, but it’s also the energy that fuels self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness. Right Effort has four types of endeavors:

1. Prevent the unwholesome seeds that has not yet arisen in oneself.
2. Letting go of the unwholesome seeds that has arisen in oneself.
3. Watering the wholesome seeds that has not yet arisen in oneself.
4. Maintaining the wholesome seeds that has already arisen in oneself.

7. Right Mindfulness (samyāk-smriti)
Right Mindfulness is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Mindfulness exercises a powerful grounding function. It anchors the mind securely in the present, so it does not float away into the past and future with their memories, regrets, fears, and hopes. Right mindfulness is cultivated through a practice called the “Four Foundations of Mindfulness” (cattaro satipatthana): the body, feelings, mind, and mental objections.

8. Right Concentration (samyāk-samādhi)
Right Concentration is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. Samadhi in meditation can be developed through mindfulness of breathing (Anapanasati), through visual objects (Kasina), and/or through repetition of phrases (Mantra). For meditation, the meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step.

There are two types of concentration: active and selective. In active concentration, the mind abides on whatever is happening in the present moment, even as things come and go and changes. Active concentration means concentration on whatever is going on in our mind; allowing the thoughts and images come and go without clinging onto them or entertaining them.
Selective concentration is holding onto and concentration on one object. While doing sitting or walking meditation, we might concentrate on an image or statue of the Buddha. We stay focused and keep our concentration on the one object. We are aware of the noises of the cars outside, of the thunder storm, or the dog barking, but we only acknowledge them and continue with our concentration on our object.

We don’t concentrate on an object to escape our suffering. Instead, we concentrate to make ourselves deeply aware of the present moment. Samadhi means concentration, to practice Samadhi is to live deeply in every moment. To concentrate, we should be mindful, fully aware and present of what is going on. Mindfulness creates concentration, concentration creates wisdom, wisdom leads to insight, and insight leads to enlightenment.

The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination

The Twelve Links (Nidãnas) is one of the most important teachings in Buddhism; it teaches the origin of suffering (dukkha) to be ignorance (avidya). In Buddhism, Dependent Origination is the teaching of how things come to be, are, and cease to be. The Twelve Links show how Dependent Origination ‘works,’ that no beings or phenomena exists independently of other beings or phenomena.

Each link is the cause of the next link (effect). Though the links are numbered and are in order, the numbering could begin anywhere, because each links connects to all the other links.

1. Ignorance (Avidya)
Ignorance in Buddhism generally means lack of understanding, usually referring to the Four Noble Truths. It is also ignorance of Anatman (no-Self), the Skandhas, and Karma.

2. Volitional Formation (Samskara)
The volitional action, impulse, motivation that comes from ignorance and creates thoughts, words, and actions that sew the seeds of Karma.

3. Consciousness (Vijñãna)
In Buddhist teaching there are many kinds of vijnana. Very generally, vijnana is what happens when one of the six faculties (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind) reacts to or becomes aware of one of the six external phenomena (visible form, sound, smell, taste, touch, and ideas and thoughts). The third link includes all kinds of vijnana.

4. Name and form (Nama-rupa)
The joining of the five skandhas into an individual existence. With name and form also come sensory perception. As a collective idea, the Nāmarūpa motif models the reciprocal relationship of bodily and mental functioning. Nāma is the naming activity of the discursive mind. Rūpa develops an internal representation of external objects, without which mind and body cannot exist.

5. Faculties and Objects/Six Sense Bases (Ṣaḍāyatana)
The Vijnana, or consciousness, link described above involves the the six faculties or sense organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind) and six corresponding external phenomena, or objects (visible form, sound, smell, taste, touch, and ideas and thoughts). The faculties and their corresponding objects are the shadayatana.

6. Contact (Sparśa)
Sparsha is contact with environment, or the contact with the faculties and object discussed of Sadayatana.

7. Sensation (Vedanã)
Vedana is the recognition and experience of sensations. These experiences are pleasurable or painful, which leads to desire and aversion.

8. Craving (Tṛṣṇā)
There are these six forms of cravings: cravings with respect to forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touch (massage, sex, pain), and ideas. If we are not mindful, we are perpetually being jerked around by desire for what we want and aversion of what we don’t want. In this state we heedlessly create karma, which keeps us entangled in the cycle of rebirth.
9. Clinging/Attachment (Upādāna)
Upadana is a grasping and clinging mind. We cling to sensual pleasures, mistaken views, external forms, material pleasure/comfort, routines, persons, and appearances. Most of all, we cling to ego and a sense of an individual self, a sense reinforced moment-to-moment by our cravings and aversions. Upadana also represents clinging to a womb and the beginning of rebirth.
10. Becoming (Bhava)
Bhava is new becoming, set in motion by the other links. It refers to the new formation of karmic tendencies. This creation of new habits and karmic tendencies, called bhava, will come to fruition through future experiences. Bhava, therefore, differs from Saṃskāra in temporal nature. “Saṃskāra refers to tendencies from past situational patterning (lives) which act on the present situation.
11. Birth (Jãti)
Jāti refers to the birth or emergence of a newborn being, appearing, according to the specific history of patterning, in one of six ‘lifestyles’ (realms; deva, asura, human, animal, hungry ghost, hell). These lifestyles indicate the general character of experience.
12. Aging and Death (Jarā-maraṇa)
The chain comes to old age and death, or the dissolution of what came to be. The karma of one life sets in motion another life, rooted in ignorance (avidya). The process of disintegration, destructuring, and entropic scattering yields a nexus of vibratory murkiness which is the condition of avidyā, the first link. Thus the entire structure of patterning feeds back on itself, and is often pictured as a circle of twelve sections, called the Wheel of Life.


We hear and read about Karma all the time. To a lot of people it’s this invisible force that controls the fortune or misfortune of others. So if someone cut someone off on the highway, or stole something, that would result in bad Karma. Though that’s true, people often forget about their own Karma and what Karma really is or how it works.

Karma is a Sanskrit word and it literally means the accumulation of our deeds (physical), words (verbal), and thoughts (mental) – our volitional actions. It basically means all moral and immoral volition. Where there is consciousness, there is Karma. Karma depends on your volition as well as your will, so there is unintentional Karma.

The nature of every action from the perspective of morality (every thought, every action, and every speech) can be classified in three ways:    Virtuous, non-virtuous, and neutral – or good, bad, and neither good or bad. We’ve been accumulating Karma for thousands or millions of lifetimes. It stays with us through our lifetimes of Samsara. It’s because of the Karma of our past lives that we have the life we have today; whether we were born into a rich or poor family, beautiful or ugly, smart or mentally challenged, or well built or disabled – it’s all because of our past Karma. The accumulation of our present Karma will determine our future lives. If we’ve been doing virtuous things and accumulate good Karma, we’ll be reborn into a life with good merits and fortunes, but if we’re doing non-virtuous things, then we’ll be reborn into a life of suffering and misfortunes, or even in another realm (Hell, animal, or ghost realm).

There are six realms a person can be reborn in: The human realm, animal realm, heavenly being realm, hell realm, Asuras realm, and hungry ghost realm. Only you will determine where you’ll be reborn again; you and your Karma!

Every deed, thought, and speech we say and do contributes to our good or bad Karma. If we’re stealing, sexual misconduct, or hurting/killing, those are all part of your deeds (physical Karma). Slandering, lying, etc. affect our speech Karma. Greed, anger, hatred, and ignorance affect our thought Karma. Our thought Karma is probably the hardest to get over and control – at some point we all have greed, anger, hatred, and ignorance towards things and people.

As we sow, we reap somewhere and sometime, in his life or in a future birth. What we reap today is what we have sown either in the present or in the past.

The Samyutta Nikaya states:

“According to the seed that’s sown,
So is the fruit you reap there from,
Doer of good will gather good,
Doer of evil, evil reaps,
Down is the seed and thou shalt taste
The fruit thereof.”

Karma is a law in itself, which operates in its own field without the intervention of any external, independent ruling agency.  Asking where Karma comes from is like asking where wind comes from. So it’s not really important to know where Karma comes from, it’s more important that we know WE control our own Karma. Ignorance and craving/desires is the main cause for Karma.

There is also another classification of Karma in regards to when effects are worked out (because Karma is a cause and effect thing): 1. Immediately Effective Karma, Karma that affects you in this present life. 2. Subsequently Effective Karma, Karma that affects you in your subsequent/following life. And 3. Indefinitely Effective Karma, is the Karma that will affect you in future lives after your subsequent life. The last one is a little more trickier than the first two, because for indefinitely effective Karma, the Karma has to “do its thing” according to the right causes and conditions, so it matures until it gets to that point, and that point could be in the third, fourth, or fifth life after yours.

So everything you’ve become, everything that you are, and will be is because of Karma. As long as you control your Karma and only do good deeds, speak truthfully and wisely, and give compassion and do good things, you’ll always be gaining Karma points. So you can definitely change! You can’t “delete” or “erase” bad Karma, but you can out weigh it with good Karma, and once you’ve accumulated enough good Karma and merit, you can be born in Heaven and find Enlightenment. You can always change for the better. Everything is impermanent and changing. So even if you’re sitting down and thinking that you’re suffering or your life sucks, purify your mind, speech, and action! How? With meditation and mindfulness! Being mindful of every thought, speech, and action you can train yourself for goodness.

You need to plant your seed! You water it, give it fertilizers, and sunshine, and eventually it’ll grow and blossom into Buddhahood! This is how you can train yourself by being mindful and purify your thoughts, speech, and actions.

What is meditation?

Contrary to popular belief, meditation isn’t just about sitting crossed-legged, placing our hands on our knees with finger and thumb touching, and chanting “Om” repeatedly. It can be in a yoga class, but this isn’t a yoga class. In Buddhism, meditation is many things: contemplation, awareness, insight, and finding inner peace and happiness.

Many resources, those new to meditation, and even the instructor in our yoga class, will tell us to sit down, relax, and clear our mind. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Clearing our mind is the end result, which may be many, many years down the road. If we ever even get there. Right now, meditation is about making friends with our mind. Meditation is about being mindful and aware of our mind and body, of its feelings, thoughts, and sensations in the present moment. It’s about knowing how the mind works in order to “override” it so we can handle whatever it throws at us.

Meditation is not passive; it’s active. We don’t just sit there, relax, and “clear our mind.” What’s the point in that? Meditation is about actively working on the mind, focusing it, eliminating distracting thoughts, and contemplating. The objective of meditation is to train the mind. By observing our mind, we can learn how it works, how thoughts and feelings arise, and how we acknowledge and handle them. For beginners of meditation, not being sucked into our thoughts is nearly impossible, but with practice and dedication, we can learn to be aware that we’re being sucked in and slowly pull ourselves out.

Those new to meditation often try to find something through the experience, thinking that an “Aha!” moment will suddenly happen or that there’s some finish line they need to cross. Meditation isn’t a race, it isn’t a destination, there’s no expectations or finish lines. It’s a never-ending practice. Meditation is simply being in the present moment and being aware of it. In the West, people want specific directions and techniques of meditation that will take them to this magical realm of peace and quiet. These techniques and magical places aren’t important. What is important is the way of being present, mindful and aware of our body and mind right here and now.

In Buddhism, many books and teachers will say, “Take what I have just said and meditate on it.” What exactly does that mean? In Zen, the Zen master gives a koan to his students, something as random as “What is a seashell that is neither a sea nor a shell?” The student then meditates and contemplates on this koan for as long as several years until he arrives at an answer that the Zen master accepts. When we contemplate in meditation, we take something apart, digest it, and analyze it until we see and understand every aspect of it. The first Truth in the Four Noble Truths, for example, is “Life is Suffering.” What does this mean to us? What is life? Our life? People’s lives? What is suffering and what constitutes as suffering? Suffering is translated from the Sanskrit word Dukkha, and it can sometimes come off as a very harsh or dramatic meaning. But what suffering really means is dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction with life and all the good and bad things that come with it.

So when we contemplate on Life is Suffering, what we’re really trying to do is realize that life is dissatisfying, that it is impermanent. Even the wealthiest of people are dissatisfied with their lives, whether it’s because they want more money, or because all the money they have causes them stress and is too much responsibility. They become overwhelmed and depressed. Even for ordinary people, life is stressful, overwhelming, and depressing. We suffer because of our ignorance, greed, desire, and anger. So the point of meditating on suffering is realizing that we are ignorant because we don’t know the Truth. We are greedy because we always want things for ourselves. We desire things we don’t and can’t have. And we become angry because of our ignorance, greed, and desire. When we contemplate these things, when we realize this is happening to us and then dig deeper into why we have ignorance, greed, desire, and anger, we learn the truth about ourselves. We come to a realization that, “Ah, maybe I’m always angry at my younger sister because I’m jealous of her success.” These are the kinds of realizations we want to come to, because the more we know our minds and what causes us dissatisfaction, the better we can deal with them and avoid that kind of suffering in the future. When our mind is peaceful and free from worries, anxieties, and anger, we can experience true happiness. If we train our mind to become peaceful, we will be happy even during hectic and harsh conditions and circumstances.

How/Why do we meditate?

Through meditation we can do wonderful things. We can overcome our ignorance, delusions, greed, anger, hatred, jealousy, and depression, and enhance our compassion, loving-kindness, happiness, and equanimity. Meditation is the way we can find liberation to escape the bonds of dissatisfaction. A common problem that can come up during meditation is that we find this happy, magical place that gives us this sense of relaxation and peace – that’s great and all, but it’s important that we don’t attach or cling to this feeling or special place. We must strive to push ourselves further and penetrate our mind deeper in order to escape the prison our mind has locked us in and find our way out to freedom.

Every being wants happiness. As humans we go from one thing to another in order to find that happiness; from one relationship to another, one job to another, or one city to another. We go to college and major in art, medicine, or creative writing in hopes that it will get us to a job that will make us happy. We adventure to new places to experience new foods and cultures, practice yoga, play video games, or grow flowers. Almost everything we do is an attempt to find happiness and avoid dissatisfaction. If we take a look at our lives we’ll discover that we spend a lot of our time and energy on mundane activities, such as seeking material, emotional, and sexual satisfaction, and enjoying the pleasures of the senses. Although these things can make us happy temporarily, they can’t provide us lasting and true happiness. Eventually all the pretty things we have, feelings we get, and pleasures we experience will end and become dissatisfying. We then find ourselves again and again going after these external pleasures and again eventually becoming dissatisfied. By becoming attached to worldly pleasures, it directly or indirectly causes us to suffer. Our desire to have the latest tech gadget gives us temporary happiness until the next new gadget comes out and we again desire to have it, and if we can’t we suffer. Everything will end, everything is impermanent. Our house will eventually age and fall apart. Our car will also age and stop running. Our loved ones will age, get sick, and die. If all we’re doing is trying to find external happiness in material or emotional experiences, our mind will never be at peace.

Happiness can come from external pleasures, but it doesn’t truly satisfy us and free us from our problems. It is unsatisfying, transitory, and unreliable happiness. This doesn’t mean we have to give up everything we enjoy like friends and possessions. Rather, we need to give up the misconceptions of what they can do for us. At the root of our problems is the fundamental mistaken view of reality, because we see these things as permanent and able to satisfy us “forever.” We have an instinctive belief that people and things exist in and of themselves; that they have an inherent nature, an inherent thingness. This means we see things as having certain lasting qualities within them; that they are good or bad, attractive or unattractive. These qualities seem to be in the objects themselves as independent of our view point and everything else.

For example, we think that ice cream is inherently delicious, or that having lots of clothes is inherently satisfying. If they were, surely they would never fail to satisfy or give pleasure and we would all experience them in the same way. Our mistaken ideas are deeply programmed in our mind and habitual to us; it controls our relationships and experiences with the world. We probably never question on whether or not the things we see is the way they actually exist, but once we do we’ll be able to see that our view on reality is exaggerated and one-sided; that the things we see as good or bad, attractive or unattractive are the things we’ve created and project by our mind.

Happiness is a state of mind, therefore the real source of happiness lies within ourselves, not in external circumstances. Though there is nothing wrong with having possessions and enjoying pleasures, we however tend to cling to these things and when they end or disappear we suffer. If our mind is peaceful and free from attachment, greed, ignorance, and anger, then we will become happy. Likewise, if our mind is not peaceful and free, we will become unhappy. So the purpose of meditation is to cultivate these states of mind of peace and happiness, and eradicate those that are not. The Buddha said that it’s a great gift to be born as a human, because only as a human do we have the chance and ability to gain enlightenment. Animals can enjoy food and sex, build homes, and care for and protect their family, but they can’t completely eliminate suffering and find true happiness. So why as humans do we sometimes only achieve what animals can do? As humans we must use our precious time to study and practice virtuously so we can escape the cycle of Samsara. Meditation helps us break the mundane walls of our attachment, ignorance, and greed and lift us out of the prison of our mind to find love, happiness, and freedom.


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