Pema Chodron, abbess of Gampo Abbey, a Tibetan monastery located on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, has published many books about how Buddhist practice can reduce suffering and increase happiness. She sometimes jokes. “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 deep happiness that are not dependent on beliefs, opinions, external objects or events. My next series of columns 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.
Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-6500.