Thursday, March 14, 2013

Improving lives using the mind

Despite what you might conclude from posts here, I am not at all convinced that Buddhist practices or ideas are a superior guide to life.  They may be.  However, the books "Buddha or Bust" by Perry Garfinkel and "Bringing Home the Dharma" by Jack Kornfield showed me convincing evidence of several things:
  • Just as in any other group, practice or project with many people and many cultures, one Buddhist is not the same as another.  Practices, hopes, goals, insights, theories differ from person to person, family to family, sect to sect and nation to nation.
  • Westerners can see records of Gautama's teachings as a psychology since he not only advised careful and close examination of one's own mind and thoughts but also advised testing each principle and admonition for one's self, just as St. Paul did (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  In the fervor of some to find the right way and stick to it, this modern sounding advice to check things out and evaluate them is often forgotten but it is still important and basic.
  • It is human nature to cry out for help when a calamity or painful loss is imminent and it is no wonder that people do so in any religion or non-religion.
  • Aside from other considerations, evidence is piling up that focused meditation for 6 seconds many times a day, 2 min or 8 or 10 or 20 minutes daily, increases one's ability to recognize one's own mental activity for what it is, and modify it if desired.
  • Meditation practices are not strictly the invention and focus of just Buddhism.  All religions have a meditative tradition.  You can check this out with Google searches for the name of any religion followed by "meditation".  Certainly, no other religion has focused as deeply on meditation as have Buddhists, but it has been a big factor in Hinduism, and was centuries before the Buddha was born, and millennia before Jesus.
  • Western, that is, European traditions pretty well cover all known possibilities but have favored action, construction, movement more so that those of the East.  To Westerners, silence coupled with physical and mental stillness have not seemed active or very valuable.  That has been a mistake.
  • Recognition of what one is doing mentally provides a little distance from the mind as well as from one's moods.  That little distance enables personal modification, training of many types.  A person can train with reminders, journals, prayers, mantras (repeated words or phrases) and move toward greater happiness, acceptance of life's gifts and costs, and virtually any other goal desired.  For many people, some progress on the important variables in one's thinking and attitudes tends to occur even with no conscious training.
  • Kornfield and other sources report shortcomings for meditation and its practitioners.  Some people are so riled up or fearful that attempting mental quiet is an invitation to terrible panic or upset.  Others have paid lip service to meditation for so long, they have lost benefit from it and need to refocus or change or see a Western psychologist or therapist or all of these things.
  • Buddhist ideas and practices, apart from meditation, can assist in improving most lives.  One of the fundamental ideas is that most human discomfort comes from obsessive concentration on one's projects and personal goals.  Another is that really, there is no self, no inner identity that we must adhere to and protect.

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