Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Books 32 and 33: Buddhism 101

Bono calls The Edge a "Zen Presbyterian."  I've read quotations from the Dalai Lama.  I've heard of the eight-fold path, and the path to enlightenment.  I'm the first to call Karma a mean bitch.  But I really didn't have a good idea of what Buddhism is.  And it kept cropping up in things I was reading, in conversations with multiple people.  So I decided I needed to know a little more.

I read two books together for my introduction to Buddhism. The first, Buddhism for Beginners by Thubten Chodron, provides an overview of Buddhism, its tenets, and its methodology in the form of questions and answers.  I found it to be straightforward, presenting sometimes abstract ideas in language that is easy to understand.  From an overview of Buddhism to how to practice and how to treat ones Buddhist teachers, this book provides a solid overview without trying to indoctrinate.

The second book I read is How to Practice the Way to a Meaningful Life by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  Translated by a Professor of Tibetan Studies at the University of Virginia, How to Practice is the Dalai Lama's own story and his own beliefs and teachings about Tibetan Buddhism.  He provides detailed reasoning behind and analysis of the Three Ways to Practice: Morality,Wisdom, and Tantra.

I found How to Practice to be somewhat more abstract and philosophical.  Still very interesting, but I had to concentrate more on it as I read. No distractions.  Which, ironically, is a part of the message- being focused and mindful.

So, while I won't pretend to be any kind of expert on Buddhism, I will recap briefly some things I learned and observed while reading these two books.

First, many of the principles of Buddhism can be practiced whether one is religious or not. Little that I have seen in my admittedly narrow reading of the subject indicates anything offensive to any of the major religions with which I am familiar. Similarly, there's not a doctrine evident in these readings that would be offensive to someone who does not practice any religion.

Second, I think most of us could benefit from the basic teachings of Buddhism. Some of these are illustrated in other religions as well, but the judgement often present there is not obvious in Buddhism. For example, Harm none. Do what you can to make things better for other people.  Be wisely selfish. Realize our actions impact other people and things. Be mindful of your actions. Practice moderation. Be charitable. Eliminate suffering where you can. 

I could go on, but you get the idea.  While I don't intend to become a Buddhist, there are a few things I took away from these books that I intend to use. I'm going to  look at things from a new perspective. Buddhism teaches that our enemies teach us tolerance.  I think that if you substitute obstacles- something a little more abstract- for enemies, then you can think of obstacles teach tolerance.  Ironically, I read that right after being incredibly annoyed about something. It was so interesting that after I read that, it was easier for me to not get upset over the situation.  Just figured, ok, dealing with these idiots is going to teach me some tolerance.  And I let go of a lot of my frustration.

I'm also going to practice more meditation. I've done it off and on, and I do see its benefits. After reading so much about it here, I like the idea of taking time out, of focusing, of letting the clutter of my mind escape once in a while.

Curious about Buddhism? I'd recommend reading these two together.

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