Island in Nova Scotia has published many books about how Buddhist practice can
reduce suffering and increase happiness. She sometimes jokes that “Christians
have the Bible but Buddhists have lists.” Her statement is humorous, but in view
of the way in which the Buddha taught, it is also true.
The Buddha never emphasized doctrine. In fact, if someone from a
different sect or religion wanted to debate doctrine, he would simply reply,
“This discussion doesn’t lead to understanding how to live a life that is rooted
in happiness and that is free of suffering.” When asked about life after death,
he would often reply that he was more interested in teaching others to realize
enlightenment in this life, not in the next one. Instead of expounding doctrine,
he taught from lists of attitudes and actions that result in enlightenment and
in deep happiness that is not dependent on beliefs, opinions, external objects
or events. My next series of articles will discuss one of these lists: eight practices that lead to
awakening. If one incorporates these eight practices into daily life, according
to the Buddha, they will realize a life that is free of suffering and filled
with joy that is not dependent on external conditions.
The first of these eight practices is to have few desires for objects
and experiences that bring pleasure to the five senses. Buddha points out how
great desire leads to the stress and discomfort of acquiring the material
objects that are pleasurable to our senses and of attaining fame that will bring
the admiration of others. If we let go of our quest for fame and gain we can relax into truly enjoying our lives
as they are.
Buddha further points out that having few desires is, in itself, rewarding because with few desires,
we don’t have to be people pleasers. We can live free of the stress of
gaining the favour of others, drop all masks and roles and enjoy who we are.
If we have few desires we are no longer prone to the many addictions that pervade our culture (alcohol, drugs,
food, computer games, social networking) because we are no longer pulled by
strong urges to bring pleasure to our senses. Without excessive desire, we are free
to choose activities that nourish rather than entertain.
People who are free of excessive desire develop a serene mind because
they live without worry. Satisfied with what they have, they will not be prone
to marketing campaigns designed to create a sense of longing and a feeling of
lack. Instead, they can experience the bliss of contentment and cultivate a state of mind
that is called nirvana. To realize nirvana is to realize heaven in this life.
Suggested Practice: For the next two weeks, notice how often
desire for an object or experience that brings pleasure comes into your
awareness. Instead of acting on it, just notice it and let it go. Bring your
awareness back to enjoyment of the present moment.