What is Buddhism? Part Four – By Bill Cunningham

In part four of his five part series, Bill Cunningham explores the meaning of Buddhism to 21st Century practicioners.

The heart of Buddhism is the joyous and hopeful message that we can live happily and wholesomely here and now. It is the description of how to practice and develop that happy life here and now. Here are three big secrets. One big secret is that out early and recurring ignorance, anger and hatred are NOT some eternal or essential part of who we are. Sometimes we’re angry or hateful, but we don’t have to be. The second big secret is that all we have to do is wake up from our nightmare life and live mindfully (or heartfully). The third big secret is that the same mechanism that causes and perpetuates our suffering can cause and perpetuate our happiness, initiated by the second secret of waking up.

When we merely react, thoughtlessly, to someone’s bad behavior, we worsen our own situation and that of others. Nobody prefers to worsen their own situation. But we do not always know what to do about it.

Our initial interpretation of seeing what’s happening could be mistaken. Other interpretations are possible. We can learn how to reinterpretations situations. In our examples, maybe the other person was upset by a spat with a spouse or annoying behavior of a child or noisy neighbor? Maybe their alarm clock failed. We don’t know any of that. However, when we look at what’s happening with friendly, compassionate eyes, we can see other interpretations; we can transform the situation.

We’re all responsible to transform the situation, but I suggest that there is greater responsibility for the one who is awake than the somnambulant, as there is for an adult rather than a child, or a ship’s skipper rather than a crewmember or passenger. Besides, my own conduct is the only one I control directly, and yours is the only one you control directly. Maybe we find a way to act that will induce and encourage the other person to modify his or her unhelpful behavior. In other words, we can transform the situation into an opportunity for both of us become better persons than we were.

We are free to transform situations. We don’t have to follow dictates of the situation or our unhelpful habits. If we choose to follow the unwholesome lead of the situation, we are like tumbleweed, unable to determine our own path.

The solution is to change ourselves into persons who are motivated to live daily wisely, lovingly, compassionately, solely because that way of living is desirable in itself. And because we are essentially changeable, we can make this change. How we can do so is the topic of our next and final part in this series.

By Bill Cunningham

Note: This is the fourth part of a five part series based on an address to
the Philadelphia Buddhist Association, Sunday, September 9, 2012.

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