The Path for Buddhists is Buddha’s legacy for humankind. He gave up the throne and spent 6 years to finally reach the answer to human suffering and attain enlightenment, and he left a map for anyone willing to follow. The path is the map.
Lewis Caroll once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”. I would add that if you do know where you are going, everything will contribute to leading you to the right direction.
Siddarta became the Buddha because he determined his life purpose was to end human suffering. He shared it because he wanted to erase it from humankind. He wanted us all to have that same purpose. First, we end our own suffering and then compassion will do the rest.
To do that, you can’t walk around not knowing where to go or what to do. According to Buddhists, you should only follow the map and go through the path Buddha paved for us.
The path is the hardest part of our self-development process. It is the third of the so-called Noble Truths. There are 4 of them, and they can be summarized as first acknowledging suffering. Second, recognizing its origin. Third the breaking free from it (the Path). And lastly the ceasing suffering for good.
Acknowledging suffering may sound easy, but it is not. In Buddhism, there are 4 main sufferings: birth, illness, aging and death. Every other form of suffering you picture can fit into one of these categories once you understand its origin.
Buddhists further limit the source of suffering to help us understand better what needs to be developed within our hearts and minds. Suffering can only come from attachment, hatred or ignorance.
Imagine a person suffers from anxiety (wow, how come?). This might be easy to acknowledge and even find medical help and medication to ease or soothe its symptoms, but it will still be there.
If this person wants to cure themselves from anxiety , they need to dig deeper. They might realize their anxiety is just a reflection of their fear of losing their kids. When they think about how the world is now, or the fact that we don´t know how and when death can occur, or the diseases around, the sensation of impotence leads them to feeling anxious about the future.
There it is, suffering!! Raise your hand if you can see yourself in an example like that (I can’t raise mine because I need to keep writing). When we start suffering, we should move on to understand where it is coming from.
The first reason that would come to the person’s mind in our example would be “from the huge love I have for them”. Wrong answer. We would like to think that, and we try to convince ourselves of it, but that fear doesn’t come from love. It comes from attachment. It is the fear of losing your kids, something you own.
Does that make sense to you? It does a lot to me. Even knowing it, it’s so hard to recognize it inside ourselves. It is the fear of losing (attachment) that brings that suffering.
Having named suffering and found its source, how do we break free from it, then.
Buddha divided this freedom process into eight parts distributed into 3 levels, known as the eightfold path.
The 3 levels are ethics, mind and wisdom. We could understand ethics as working on how we present ourselves to the world, but this has to be from inside, which is why it requires some effort. Then with mind, we change the way we see ourselves, transforming it. And finally with wisdom, we will transcend the separation between ourselves and the rest of the world.
Ethics is divided into right speeches, right acts and right livelihood. Being very superficial, I would say: speak no evil, do no evil and live in no evil. But Buddhism explains that sometimes, not doing something doesn’t mean you are doing the right thing.
Now, being blunt: don’t open your mouth! Unless what you have to say is going to make the listener or listeners feel better. What about the truth? If you really have to say it, speak in a way it won’t hurt the person.
Do what is right! Don’t try to transform an absolute concept into a relative one. The same way it is not right to kill someone, it is not right to park in prohibited areas, or to litter. The “size” of the wrongdoing doesn’t really matter.
And last, but not least live as if you were a full-time role model. Even if no one is looking, imagine there is always someone (a personal version of Big Brother). Each step you take has to reflect righteousness.
This second level contains right endeavor, right self-development, right concentration. Remember I told you it is about you and you, ok? You have to feel your efforts are directed into the right way. It is about failing and not giving up. Transforming who you are, actually, who the world has made you believe you are, is a process. Failing is a part of it.
This process also involves carving yourself into a better version of you. Choose well what your self-development will be about and be careful on how you accomplish it. Trust me, you don’t want to create goals you won’t be able to match. That is not helpful. But most of all, do it for the right reason.
Right concentration is the capacity of focusing your mind into quieting your thoughts, making it a refuge of silence. It will only be possible as you free yourself from attachments, hatred or illusions. They are the ones screaming into the silence you are striving to create within you.
When we reach this level, the other two come naturally. As that happens this third level will be an eventual consequence. As you live, speak, do right and practice right endeavor, self-development and concentration, long enough, it will be imprinted in you.
Transcendence will happen because “right” will overcome you in a way that you won’t be able to see yourself as an individual. You will, necessarily, feel that you are a tiny part of a greater engine and that you are committed to making it work right. To do so, you have to care about the other parts of this engine.
You can do that by having the right views. You will only see and want what is good, what is right. And you will develop the right intention, which is the last part. You will see that what matters most is what you plant, not what you harvest. Because if you plant good, there is no way you will be harvesting evil.
At this point you break free from suffering and the path reaches its end. Now is just a short walk into Nirvana. That will be about seeing reality, but it is subject for another talk.
I will leave you with a quote by Gandhi, which in my opinion explains the Path better than I could ever do.
Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.