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February 26, 2018

The 2,500-year-old Teachings that can Help us Navigate our Crazy Modern World.

Over 2,500 years ago—when the Buddha gave his first sermon—life was different.

Today, the world is advancing rapidly and technology is everywhere. We have various economic, environmental, and political problems, along with our own personal issues to worry about.

With so much to think about, we might find ourselves either too busy or too overwhelmed to put old scriptures into practice. As conditioned human beings, we tend to automatically try to solve issues the same way we always have.

Now that I’ve been studying Buddhism for a few years, I see the Dharma as a much-needed resource in our modern lives.

The enormity of our problems shouldn’t keep us from practicing the Dharma; rather, we should use these tools to help eradicate our problems. For me, the teachings of the Buddha are like an anchor that stops me from drifting away in the volatile sea of my mind.

Buddhist literature is vast, and I’ve found that in can be split into two aspects: religious and philosophical. The religious aspect focuses on enlightenment, or “the why,” while the philosophical aspect focuses on “the how.”

As people leading regular lives, the philosophical aspect is what might interest us and assist us most right now. Taking both parts to heart is beneficial, but since we often have so much on our plate, learning “the how” helps make Buddhist teachings more accessible.

Thankfully, even learning the basics is enough to bring peace and joy into our lives at any moment. Why? Because the basics, which are the means to enlightenment, tackle how our mind, emotions, and perception work. This is why opting for a few simple Buddhist teachings can help us deal better with our relationships, jobs, life decisions, and even traffic jams.

What are the basics and how can they help us?

The mind is the devil in disguise.
The human mind has made fabulous discoveries throughout history. It has the ability to rationalize, analyze, explain, and solve. While it appears to be our loyal friend, Buddhist teachings suggest that it’s also the root cause of all our problems, including greed, hatred, attachment, jealousy, and ignorance.

Understand the enemy.
Our mind is constantly seeking perfection, but life is not flawless—it has ups and downs and is constantly changing. The Buddha emphasized acknowledging the reality of life, which at times includes disappointment. So long as we seek perfection and permanence, we’ll never be content.

Look within.
Oftentimes, we must take outside actions to trigger an outside change, especially when it comes to politics, the economy, or environmental issues. But if we wish to heal our personal problems and help solve the world’s problems without being affected, the Buddha suggests looking within. Our attachment to people, situations, ideas, moods, thoughts, and emotions is what keeps us suffering.

Perception matters.
Worldly and personal issues exist—the Buddha never denied this—but how we perceive them is essential. In Buddhism, there are two realities: the one that “is” and the one that we create in our minds. Frequently, we construct false assumptions, believe them, and project them unto the reality that “is.” Doing this often leads to disappointment because we can’t always control what happens to us.

For every condition, there is a cause.
In the Buddhist tradition, there is no independent self. Everything is interdependent, and for every condition, there is a cause. Consequently, what we call endings and beginnings are deeper than what we see on the surface. They’re part of an extended chain that is constantly leading us to the next thing.

Happiness is not an outside job.
With the growth of advertisement and consumerism, we might believe that “more” equals gratification. As Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse suggests, materialistic goods are like baby rattles—fun, but just there to distract us for a short time. Soon we find ourselves looking for the next thing to make us happy. Relying on outside factors, like things, people or events, to bring us happiness is futile. Real satisfaction comes from within because with practice, we can choose how we respond to the circumstances around us, which we can’t often control.

Work on your emotions.
If we wish to have more peace in our lives, we must work on our emotions. So long as we have anger, resentment, and hatred inside us, we can never create real change—within or without. As Morrie Schwartz once said, “Love always wins.” We can practice meditation to help us tame the mind and deal with our emotions better. With time, we can learn how to sit with what’s happening inside us, accept it, and release it.

Practice loving-kindness.
Compassion, love, and patience are the fundamentals of the Buddha’s teachings. Real happiness is to radiate love to ourselves and spread it to other people. Being able to forgive and develop compassion is useful in our daily lives. When we are compassionate and kind, we build bridges and shatter walls. If you find a hard time forgiving, put yourself in the other person’s shoes—our relationships transform when we see ourselves in other people.

Be in the present moment.
The Buddha taught that the past and the future are illusory timelines that only exist in our minds. The only time that exists is right now. If we can truly understand this, we won’t need to worry about what’s gone or what’s yet to come. Because, the truth is, it’s all happening now.

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Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Jack Wallsten/Flickr
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton

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