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Buddhist Principles

The group where I meditate is part of the Thervadin school of Buddhism which studies the old records of the Buddha's teachings that were originally recorded in Pali. I, on the other hand, look for my inspiration in contemplating what I am doing here and now. While the others seem to be digging deeper into the finer details, I am trying to understand the most basic principles and grasp the meaning of the most common terms, some of which I find enlightening and others I find misleading. Graeme Lyal states in "Buddhism - An Introduction"  that "The Theravada school claims to adhere stricktly to the original teachings of the Buddha ... The Sangha of the Theravada is expected to observe to the letter the 227 rules laid down in a collection of books called the Vinaya ...". Too much - 4 noble truths, 5 precepts, 8 fold path, 227 rules! If you read my description of the requirements for contra dancing, you will be aware of how uncomfortable I am with having more than two rules in  my head at any one time.

In place a rigid structure I have a more fluid and developing set of values that I have chosen with an awareness of most of the alternatives and their consequences. Judge for yourself if they follow a Buddhist tradition or just state universal principles that can be found in most of the major religions.

Eric Fromm did a study of how people can seem to violate so many of their own ethical standards, especially in time of war. How can the rules of war make it okay to kill a soldier who happens to be on the opposing side? He concluded that people draw "kinship circles" that limit the extent of their ethical responsibility. Though not necessarily an accurate predictor of a person's behavior, these limits change how a person decides upon and feels about that behavior.

When at war,  propaganda necessarily dehumanizes the enemy so that the opposing soldiers are not seen as "akin to us", however the kinship limit of moral obligation can be drawn anywhere. Someone named Hatfield could kill another person named McCoy because the other person was not seen as akin to him. The kinship circle can become very small, or it can expand to include everyone, if not everything. The five precepts that are usually taken at beginning a Buddhist retreat go even beyond including every person "because I understand the value of human life and all sentient beings". With the development of an environmental conscience, the circle of ethical responsibility can even include all of "mother earth". I judge the value of an ethical conviction not only by its depth, but also by how widely it is applied. The inscription in the walkway outside of the Earth Connection building where the Tri State Dahrma group meditates states that everything in the universe is connected to everything else.  Nothing is totally separate and not akin to us. I value breaking down the black or white division between "us and them".  

A Buddhist friend of mine was asked what he believes in, and he replied, "Reality." Too bad that reality can be disappointing if you let it. I value accepting reality even when it is difficult to do so. The following items are not taboo, they are just very costly.

  • finding comfort in the literal interpretation of a fantasy
  • any form of deceiving others or myself
  • expecting solutions from the supernatural
  • being entertained by diversions
  • being apathetic to the suffering of others
  • not accepting that pain happens
  • not accepting that death happens
  • Sobriety
    I value living sober because I do not want to miss what was happening while I was off on a trip.

    Positive Attitude versus Positive Thinking
    Positive thinking can either mean a narrowing of focus, like wearing blinders,  or expanding your view while maintaining a healthy attitude. Popular books and sayings about positive thinking generally use the narrow view definition which is limiting in focus. Notice that the glass in half full instead of noticing that it is half empty. "Keep on the sunny side." "If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all."

    In reality, the glass is both half full and half empty, whether I notice it or not. Being aware of both the positive and the negative gives me the freedom to decide that the half that is full is more important right now, or I could direct my energy to the empty half and take action do something about filling it. Also, the "negative side" might not be as negative as assumed if I take a closer look at it. The half empty part could be the space necessary for something new to be taken in.

    I admire John Bradshaw, a councellor, lecturer and author who uses the broad view approach . He advises people to feel the pain, the negative side. As a saying in therapy states, "You can't heal what you can't feel." Likewise, using mindfulness meditation for pain control maintains an awareness of the pain, but changes how you relate to it.  No wonder that I appreciate the broad view honesty of Buddhist doctrine that begins with an awareness that life is suffering, but keeps the attitude that happiness is possible in spite of the pain.

    Moderation versus Balance
    I value balance more than moderation. Having two desires at the opposite ends of a continuum is quite a dilemma when getting more of one often means getting less of the other. Say, for instance, that a woman likes to walk though different city neighborhoods  for exercise. She also wants to be safe, but some neighborhoods such as "Over the Rhine" in Cincinnati could be dangerous. Using a moderate approach, she would gain an adequate amount of safety by limiting her freedom to walk everywhere she wants, and she would indulge her desire to go walking by sacrificing some degree of safety. Moderation balances safety and freedom by giving her less of each.

    Balance can also be achieved by getting more of each extreme. The Main Street section of "Over the Rhine" has been developed with upscale businesses and entertainment with an increase in police patrols and protection giving her more places to walk with greater safety. Finding the balance of the "middle path" is more satisfying when it is based on getting more of what you want, not less.

    Desire, Judging & Choosing
    For a very long time I had trouble making peace with the concept that suffering is caused by desire. I want what I want; don't tell me I shouldn't want it. Maybe desire is not the right word. Craving might be a better word. I found a Western, psychological explanation of the pain from craving by watching Bradshaw's lectures on the universality of using addictive behavior to avoid accepting some part of reality. 
     I interpret the Buddhist concept of "judging mind" also as the unwillingness to accept reality as it is, thinking that I don't like "what is on my plate" so what is on my plate shouldn't be there and something else should. But what is is, whether I like it or not.

    Choosing, like judging, makes value assessments, but it accepts what is and alters the future with decisions made in the present. The present is accepted and the future is changed. For example, Victor Fankel found happiness using the choices that he had available to him rather than getting stuck judging the unfairness of his confinement while he was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. I value Victor Frankl's attitude. I am sure that he did not want to be in a concentration camp, but he was not attached  to that desire in a way that kept him from being happy.

    I value weorthscripe more than the traditional definition of worship in which something or someone is worshipped. Ann Foerster, a former minister at a local Unitarian Universalist church, defined the Old English word woerthscripe as discussing things of worth and becoming more like our principles.

    Lessons From Contra Dance

    1. UNIVERSAL INCLUSIVENESS  Everyone who shows up is a member of the group. Whenever you think you are part of the "in crowd", you are. (extending loving kindness)
    2. MISTAKES ARE NOT IMPORTANT  On the continuum between getting it right and doing it wrong, getting it right is important, but making a mistake does not count.
    5. PLAY NICE   The freedom to be extremely playful is balanced by the responsibility to play nice.
    6. DO WHAT IS NEEDED   As an all volunteer group, contra dance is able to happen because many people are dedicated to doing the work.
    7. REFRAIN FROM GRASPING OR HOLDING ON TOO TIGHTLY  The result is pain, not security.
    8. THE PAST DOES NOT CHANGE   You cannot go back to undo an error. You can only go forward where you will have another chance to do better next time.
    9. IMPERMANANCE   Peace and calm are found by going with the flow, not stopping.
    10. A MARRIAGE OF OPPOSITE EXTREMES   Contra balances both a simple, rigid structure enabling every to work together and plenty of room for spontaneity fostering creativity.

    Send metta first to yourself, then to a benefactor, to a friend, to a stranger, and also to an enemy.

    May I be happy, well and safe.
    May I be free of suffering.
    May I have ease of well being.
    May I be at peace.
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