1) Worrying is useless…Worrying is simply in the mind and really doesn’t help with any issues in our lives. Can worrying really change what’s going to happen? No, it’s a waste of time. As Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh says below, try to remain in the present moment without putting labels on your “future conditions of happiness.”“Worrying does not accomplish anything. Even if you worry twenty times more, it will not change the situation of the world. In fact, your anxiety will only make things worse. Even though things are not as we would like, we can still be content, knowing we are trying our best and will continue to do so. If we don’t know how to breathe, smile, and live every moment of our life deeply, we will never be able to help anyone. I am happy in the present moment. I do not ask for anything else. I do not expect any additional happiness or conditions that will bring about more happiness. The most important practice is aimlessness, not running after things, not grasping.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
2) If we want to be happy, we must see reality for what it is…Buddhism teaches us that we must see reality for what it is if you want to be truly free. Instead of being set in our own ideas and opinions, we need to stay open to and accepting of whatever truth arises. So many of us try to remain positive by avoiding all negative emotions and situations. However, we need to confront them and accept them if we are ever to be truly free. Buddhist master Pema Chödrön says it best:“We have two alternatives: either we question our beliefs – or we don’t. Either we accept our fixed versions of reality- or we begin to challenge them. In Buddha’s opinion, to train in staying open and curious – to train in dissolving our assumptions and beliefs – is the best use of our human lives.”
3) We need to accept change actively…Life is change, you’re born and eventually, you will die. The weather changes every day. No matter which aspect you look at in life, everything changes. Many of us attempt to keep things “fixed” and “constant”. However, this only goes against the true forces of the universe. By accepting and embracing change, it gives us enormous liberation and energy to create the lives we want. Buddhist Daisaku Ikeda says that accepting change allows us to take initiative and create positive changes in our lives.“Buddhism holds that everything is in constant flux. Thus the question is whether we are to accept change passively and be swept away by it or whether we are to take the lead and create positive changes on our own initiative. While conservatism and self-protection might be likened to winter, night, and death, the spirit of pioneering and attempting to realize ideals evokes images of spring, morning, and birth.” – Daisaku Ikeda
4) The root of suffering is pursuing temporary feelings…So many of us crave those feelings of happiness. We think happiness includes excitement, joy, euphoria…but these are only temporary versions of happiness. And the constant pursuit of these feelings only turns into suffering because they will never last. Instead, true happiness comes from inner peace. It’s found by being content with what you have and who you are. Yuval Noah Harari describes it perfectly:“According to Buddhism, the root of suffering is neither the feeling of pain nor of sadness nor even of meaninglessness. Rather, the real root of suffering is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of ephemeral feelings, which causes us to be in a constant state of tension, restlessness, and dissatisfaction. Due to this pursuit, the mind is never satisfied. Even when experiencing pleasure, it is not content, because it fears this feeling might soon disappear and craves that this feeling should stay and intensify. People are liberated from suffering not when they experience this or that fleeting pleasure, but rather when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings and stop craving them.” – Yuval Noah Harari
5) Meditation is the path to reducing sufferingMeditation teaches us that everything is fleeting, especially our feelings. It teaches us that the present moment is all that exists. And when we truly understand this truth, we become content in ourselves, according to Yuval Noah Harari:“This is the aim of Buddhist meditation practices. In meditation, you are supposed to closely observe your mind and body, witness the ceaseless arising and passing of all your feelings, and realize how pointless it is to pursue them. When the pursuit stops, the mind becomes very relaxed, clear and satisfied. All kinds of feelings go on arising and passing – joy, anger, boredom, lust – but once you stop craving particular feelings, you can just accept them for what they are. You live in the present moment instead of fantasizing about what might have been. The resulting Serenity is so profound that those who spend their lives in the frenzied pursuit of pleasant feelings can hardly imagine it.” – Yuval Noah Harari
I am not sure that these so-called Buddhist principles (except for the promotion of meditation, it all sounds suspiciously like stoicism) stand up very well to their encapsulization. What little I've learned about Buddhism over the years hasn't inspired me to learn much more. But its principles sound to me remarkably political. Insisting on a degree of detachment from life, on a dispassionate attitude toward the excitements and enticements of life in order to also avoid its disappointments and despondencies is powerfully political. As George Orwell put it, "The opinion that [one] should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude." ("Why I Write," 1946)
Siddartha, the man who would eventually establish Buddhism in his own lifetime, was born into a Hindu ethos. It was due to the apparent hopelessness of the Hindu understanding of life and death that Siddartha was inspired to discover a "middle way" that allows human beings a way out of the endless cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation. The middle way is compassion, which makes me wonder what Marx thought of Buddhism, if anything. The extreme asceticism practiced in Hindu "bramahcharya" was adopted by Gandhi, whose political influence not just in India but all over the world, continues to be seen and felt. "If one could follow it to its psychological roots," Orwell wrote about Gandhi's asceticism, "one would, I believe, find that the main motive for 'non-attachment' is a desire to escape from the pain of living, and above all from love, which, sexual or non-sexual, is hard work." The ultimate goal of Buddhism, it seems to me, is no different from every other extant religion - some dimly-conceived next life that no living human being has ever proven exists.
But another drawback to Buddhism, as expressed in the above "5 brutal truths", is its subjection to the fallacy that the object of life is to be happy. This seems to me, from what I have read about Buddhism, to be a distortion of its basic tenets, which have to do with avoiding everything that causes suffering, which includes emotional attachments to the people and to objects around us. Only by assuming a scrupulous detachment and a strict avoidance of passionate involvement in anything can we achieve a kind of serenity. Granted, such serenity has always seemed to be inhuman. Beng a good Buddhist requires one to abdicate one's responsibilities as a human being. Life is reduced to a passionless sameness that is as distant from what I regard as a full life as possible.
Some people make the mistake of thinking that because Buddhism doesn't have a god to worship or any emphasis on personal morality that it's fundamentally different from other religions. When it is observed closely, however, Buddhism bears a resemblance to other religions in its striving to alleviate suffering and the general and quite natural fear of death. It teaches, for example, that an extreme avoidance of emotional attachments to the world and other people can reduce our experience of suffering and that meditation can reduce worry and stress. Unfortunately, the ultimate goal of buddhism, a disengagement with our passions and living without hope, turns out to be not just an avoidance of suffering and pain but a disavowal of life itself. The "quietude" that buddhists cultivate is deathlike. Hasn't a corpse attained the ultimate quietude (quietus)? As Philip Larkin put it, "Death is no different whined at than withstood."
One of the most powerful rebukes to the dispassionate Buddhist approach to life can be found in a story by Chekhov called "In Exile." Chekhov wrote the story after a visit to a penal colony on Sakhalin Island, in Easternmost Siberia. In the story, two prisoners operating a river ferry are sitting at night by a fire. One of them is Semyon, aka Canny, a longtime resident of the penal colony (and a virtual Buddhist philosopher according to the precepts outlined above). The other is known only as "the Tatar," who is a newcomer. The suffering meted out to the prisoners is the catalyst of the story, as each prisoner finds divergent ways of dealing with the hardships that life has to offer them.
The Tatar is lonely without his mother and his wife. He looks around him at the desolation and cries, "'It's bad! it's bad!'"
'You will get used to it,' Canny tells him. 'I want nothing and I am afraid of nobody, and the way I look at it is that there is nobody richer and freer than I am.'"
Canny tells the Tatar the long story of Vassily Sergeyitch, a "gentleman" prisoner who arrived fifteen years before. He missed his wife so badly that he wrote to her every day and sent her telegrams. Finally, after two years, the gentleman's wife arrived in the camp. She stayed with him for three years but she couldn't tolerate the life of the colony, the terrible weather and the drunkenness. Finally Vassily's wife ran away with a young man. He tried to pursue them, to no avail.
Alone with his young daughter, Vasily Sergeyitch flung himself into making her life as pleasant as possible, pampering her with whatever he could acquire for her. But she becomes afflicted with tuberculosis, and Vassily spends all of his time and money trying to find a doctor to cure her.
Canny continually tells the Tatar that all of the gentleman's efforts, all his running about trying to make his life and the life of his daughter the slightest bit better was a waste of time. Finally, a man on the opposite bank calls for the ferry. When the men, including Canny and the Tatar, reach the opposite bank they discover it is Vassily Sergeyitch. He has heard of a new doctor and is going in his coach to find him and bring him to his daughter. Canny only laughs at Vassily's hopeless fussing over his sick daughter.
"'She is certain to die,' Canny says, 'and then it will be all over with him. He'll hang himself from grief or run away to Russia — that's a sure thing. He'll run away and they'll catch him, then he will be tried, sent to prison, he will have a taste of the lash. . . .'
'Good! good!' said the Tatar, shivering with cold.
'What is good?' asked Canny.
'His wife, his daughter. . . . What of prison and what of sorrow! — anyway, he did see his wife and his daughter. . . . You say, want nothing. But "nothing" is bad! His wife lived with him three years — that was a gift from God. "Nothing" is bad, but three years is good. How not understand?'
The Tatar went up to Canny, and, looking at him with hatred and repulsion, shivering, and mixing Tatar words with his broken Russian, said: 'He is good . . . good; but you are bad! You are bad! The gentleman is a good soul, excellent, and you are a beast, bad! The gentleman is alive, but you are a dead carcass. . . . God created man to be alive, and to have joy and grief and sorrow; but you want nothing, so you are not alive, you are stone, clay! A stone wants nothing and you want nothing. You are a stone, and God does not love you, but He loves the gentleman!'"
Vassily Sergeyitch does the opposite of what the Buddhist doctrines laid out so heartlessly above. But, unlike every good Buddhist, who, like Canny, has learned not to strive after anything and never to surrender to his emotions, to be a "stone," the gentleman is alive, and has something, no matter how fleeting, to show for his life. His life may indeed end badly, but at least he tried, and his failure is, after all, proof of his belief - however misdirected - in love. That is more than Buddhism would've given him, for all of its dubious serenity.