Imagine you’re walking across a swamp in Southern India, and you come across this beautiful, bright pink lotus flower:
You look at it, and think, ‘how could something so beautiful bloom from murky, ugly swamp water?’
But the thing is, most humans are like a lotus flower. They’re born in murky, difficult-to-navigate water. Only a few, however, manage to rise about their conditions, and bloom like the lotus flower. If they do, they reach the optimal life, or nirvana, similar to how a lotus flower blooms. Buddha dedicated his life towards helping most people blossom, and reach enlightenment.
Who is the Buddha?
The life story of the Buddha begins in Lumbini, near the border of Nepal and India, about 2,600 years ago, where Prince Siddharta Gautama was born.
Growing up, the Buddha was exceptionally intelligent and compassionate. Tall, strong, and handsome, the Buddha belonged to the Warrior caste. It was predicted that he would become either a great king or spiritual leader. Since his parents wanted a powerful ruler for their kingdom, they tried to prevent Siddharta from seeing the unsatisfactory nature of the world. They surrounded him with every kind of pleasure, and a sheltered worldview.
However, at the age of 29, he was confronted with having to view things like poverty, death, famine and old-age. He had never even seen something as normal as aging before! It completely terrified him, that despite his privilege and wealth, he, and his loved ones would have to come to terms with aging and death.
Later on, he saw a man who was meditating in deep absorption. When their eyes met and their minds linked, Siddhartha stopped, mesmerized. In a flash, he realized that the perfection he had been seeking outside which had been shattered must be within mind itself. Meeting that man gave the future Buddha a first and enticing taste of mind, a true and lasting refuge, which he knew he had to experience himself for the good of all.
And so, Buddha went on to renounce his traditional beliefs, abandon his luxury, and become an ascetic, or someone who wants to solve suffering and seek spirituality through abstinence of all indulgence and desire. Ascetics often deprived themselves of sleep, shelter and food.
Through this experience, he came to realize that extreme indulgence (like he had been living in as a prince), and asceticism both independently do not achieve enlightenment. He then decided to sit under a tree and simply meditate until he gained enlightenment. One day, when he stood up from that tree, he became the Buddha, or the awakened one.
The Four Noble Truths
1. Suffering is universal
Happiness eventually fades, regardless of what you do (buy a dream car, get that nice watch). Buddha classified dissatisfaction as the default state of the human brain. This makes so much sense, since if we’re not dissatisfied constantly, nothing would get done. Our lives are a struggle, and we don’t find ultimate happiness in anything we experience. This is known as the problem of existence.
2. Desire gives unhappiness and dissatisfaction
Before we can try to eliminate desire, we must understand it. The three main causes of desire by the mind are:
- Aversion or magnifying your problems
Attachment is when we aim to obtain happiness through material desires. We often magnify the good traits, and ignore the bad traits. Think of that Range Rover you’ve been wanting; you love to think about riding in the nice leather interior of the car, and less on how much oil it takes to fuel one!
Aversion occurs when we face anger at not reaching certain expectations for someone or something. Think of when you’re in traffic, and someone cuts you off, which prevents you from passing the intersection before the light turns red. You’re probably thinking, ‘Dang! I could’ve saved so much time if that idiot didn’t cut me off!’ But can you actually control if that person cuts you off or not? No. Having these expectations for things you cannot control is irrational. If things work, awesome! But if not, it’s all good~
Ignorance is really a cause that embodies the previous two. It’s when you don’t recognize that your frustrations are inconsequential. It’s the belief that your own emotions are determined by the world around you. Often, the world around us isn’t fair, but it’s up to us to determine whether our reality is good or bad. Buddha states here, that happiness or anger stems from internal choices, not external circumstances.
3. Eliminating all suffering
From the last two, we can deduce that by eliminating all desires, or nirodha in Sanskrit, we can eliminate suffering. Buddha believed that aversion, ignorance and attachment, the three forms of desire, all stem from selfishness, and selfishness is rooted in the belief that you are separate from the rest of the world. By eliminating the ‘self’, you eliminate suffering.
4. Attaining Nirvana — A Framework
Buddha believed that the way to end suffering is through developing wisdom, ethical conduct, and meditation. By having the right understanding of suffering and desire, which the Noble Truths help provide, and the right values and attitude, such as removal of the self, we can develop wisdom. Meditation can be used as a vehicle for developing mindfulness. Buddha defined mindfulness as a method for removing the internal clutter which drives unhappiness.
So in summary:
- Strong Morals and Ethics + Understanding Desire and Suffering = Wisdom
- Wisdom + Mindfulness = 💥
Key Takeaway: If we can develop the right understanding of how to avoid things that make us unhappy and cause suffering, such as desire, and develop a strong ethical conduct, while practicing mindfulness, we can get much closer to achieving happiness.
The Three Universal Truths
In addition to developing wisdom, or understanding, and mindfulness, the other part of the process of enlightenment is to become ultra-aware of the world around us, and the universe. Buddhism uses the following 3 ways to understand this concept:
- Everything is not permanent, and changing
- Impermanence leads to suffering, making life imperfect.
- The self is not personal and unchanging.
Buddhism teaches us how to best develop the wisdom, morals, mindfulness and truths to achieve happiness. If we can understand ourselves really well and develop unique knowledge about the world, we can use the principles of Buddhism to be happier and more aware of ourselves and the world around us.
Thanks for taking the time to read through my thoughts on Buddha! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to chat with me on Twitter. Or if you would like to learn about any new content I put out, subscribe to my monthly newsletter to see new projects, conferences I go to, and articles I put out!