We suffer. Some of us suffer heartbreak after someone we love departs from our life and some of us suffer excruciating pain as we wait for the last five minutes of our Maths exam to peel away. Different philosophies and religions have different perspectives on suffering and a plethora of answers to address them. However, one thought philosophy addresses suffering as an inherent aspect of existence and lays out a path, or if you will, a process to overcome it and that is Buddhism. In this article, we will begin to examine Buddhism as a philosophy and aim to make Buddhist Mindfulness accessible to all.
Siddartha Gautama, now known as the Buddha, was born into a life of extreme affluence. As the son of a clan leader, Gautama was prophesied to either lead the life of a holy man or a king. In fear of his son leading the life of the former, Gautama’s father kept his son locked away in the luxury of his palace in hopes of shielding him from experiencing any suffering. When Gautama first left the palace he was distressed as he began to see death, old age, and illness plague the streets around him. What Gautama saw prompted him to leave the palace, give up his possessions, and embark on a spiritual journey in an attempt to comprehend the true purpose and nature of suffering. Gautama began practicing asceticism – the practice of abstaining from acts of pleasure However, he found that to be equally unsatisfying as an extreme indulgence which led him to postulate the Middle-Way: a path of moderation. This path is centered around the Four Noble Truths that in essence suggest that suffering is an inherent part of existence caused by desire. The solution to this is the Eightfold Path: a code of ethics that can be practiced to eradicate desire. The over-arching principle of the eightfold path is the attainment of Nirvana. The Buddha’s teachings describe the state of Nirvana as the highest state of consciousness where the mind is completely at ease. The attainment of Nirvana is a long process, but there are aspects of Buddhist teachings relating to mindfulness that we can incorporate into our lives to ease our everyday stress and suffering.
Prior to discussing how to effectively incorporate Buddhist Mindfulness, I will share my experience with mindfulness and subsequently, will discuss how everyone can take steps towards it.
As a naturally stressed out person, I have often relied on sports and music as methods to alleviate stress and be effectively centered at the moment. While they helped and continue to help, I was looking for something deeper and less transient. After reading and watching some content related to mindfulness, I was motivated by the prospect of attaining a ‘real-life superpower.’ I began meditating through the use of the app Headspace to develop a strong foundation and then moved on to guided meditations by creators such as Leo Gura. These meditative experiences have led me to question some of my most fundamental beliefs regarding life, death, perception, and experience. The new perspectives I gained on these concepts through meditating was the primary source of inspiration behind this article.
To begin this journey, an important prerequisite is an open-mindedness: to be able to question and possibly even break down your epistemological foundations or in simpler terms, the willingness the question some of your core beliefs.
An open-mindedness in questioning pre-conceived beliefs is one of the most powerful tools one can possess in a quest for mindfulness. Once we begin to question the cause of our suffering we recognize that the notion of external events causing suffering is simply false, as if we observe our internal reaction to events, we begin to understand that suffering originates from within. This truth may be alarming at first, however, it means that one can begin to take steps to better develop a more stoic reaction to external events and understand the trivial nature of these events through mindfulness. By beginning with a 10-minute meditation on a daily basis (through apps such as Headspace), we begin to alleviate some of the stress that builds up inside of us and better understand ourselves. It is our reaction to external events that causes suffering or distress. While we might have little or no control over these we do have control over how we react to them.