By The Lexi-con
I lack the ability as well as the right to endeavor to do anything except try to understand and put into practice the ideas and teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I am a student of philosophy, a spiritual nomad, a misfit toy, and nowhere near capable of such thought as to offer insight. However, I shall give it my best shot.
There is a question posed quite early: What is the Meaning of Life? This is a question many struggle with, looking for purpose and meaning. There are those that would be excited to see the question and disappointed to see the answer His Holiness gives, but I for one have found it to be the best answer I have heard in my few years on the earth. The answer: to be compassionate towards others.
Taking that idea a step further, it is based on our ability to be compassionate and to show that compassion towards others that we are able to have an impact on our future lives. We are the captains of our own fate.
The idea of impermanence, depending on the context in which one is trying to understand/accept it, ca be difficult to internalize. However, the visual concept of the apple transitioning from the form that we see as delicious to a form we do not recognize, and the scientific concept of the erosion of the mountains over millions of years, allows for a much easier internalization process.
A question I have asked myself on several occasions has been “What makes me me?” Another is “Who am I?” In regard to Christian and Judaic thought, my soul makes me me, and my soul is here on the planet once, and is then either sent to paradise or eternal suffering.
However, in Buddhist theory and belief, there is no soul. The idea of “I” is a major problem. The idea of “I”, an idea essential to the dogmas of other spiritual creeds, is expressly denied within Buddhism. There is no inherent self. Rather, there is a consciousness that exists moment to moment, each preceding moment causing the proceeding moment. Tricky at first. Why is consciousness different from the soul? A question that took me some time to wrestle with. However, a soul is stagnate, much like a pond, while consciousness is fluid, like a river. A wise man said to me as I was trying to wrap my mind around this “Go slow. One step at a time.”
In my rather simple understanding, this idea of inherent existence causes various things that lead us to suffer. For example, if I desire a brand new car, I will be drawn to what I deem as “the best”. It is not necessarily because it is the best, but rather because I have perceived it to be so. This longing for an object that truly is only parts constructed in a way that cause it to be perceived as a car, causes suffering. The same can be said of people. If I use the idea of self to distinguish myself from others, avoidance and dislike will then stem from my attempts to further distinguish myself from others by perceiving or attributing inherently negative qualities about them.
Then of course, there is emptiness. I must confess, I am still wrestling with this one. The Buddha stated, “Form is empty, emptiness is form”. What I’ve gotten from this is that although material things exist, such as a bed or a guitar, there is no inherent existence to either of these things, or anything else. It is in trying to apply inherent existence that we again find ourselves within the jaws of misery.
So, just as the belief that there is no inherent existence settles, we can come back to the question of “Who am I?” It’s been established that there is no inherent self, but there can be a use for the terms “I” or “me” solely as labels for the physical and mental parts that make up a person. The name Alexandra Gioiella serves merely as a label for the mental and physical parts that exist in the present moment. Nothing more.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, much as I enjoyed An Open Heart. Although sometimes raising a few more questions for myself than I’d like, I found that my view changed as I continued to read. I started out looking for answers, which was the wrong approach to take. As I continued through the book, my desire for answers gave way to a desire for understanding, which I believe I found in some small way.
From a philosophic point of view, I thought it was great. It was laid out in a manner that was conducive to dedicated practitioners as well as those just discovering Buddhism. As opposed to other books on religion/spirituality, Buddhist theories were not held to be fact. Instead, they were posited as beliefs held by those who practice Buddhism. I find that for the general public, regardless of creed, it’s much easier to stomach, accept, and potentially embrace.
Most philosophies, when put forth by those who believe in them most fervently, are hard to take, as believers and practitioners can come on a little strong. However, His Holiness does not say that any other belief system is inherently wrong (as is sometimes the case when dealing with other spiritual beliefs), he accepts that other belief systems exist and that others find peace through them. It is easy to tell that he believes strongly in Buddhism, but not with the sort of abrasive close-minded ignorance that can pervade the minds of the followers within other faiths.
We should all be so lucky to be capable of having such strong belief and yet be so capable of not only tolerance, which should be basic, but also of acceptance which can be so much harder. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is an inspiration, and a beacon of light for those who struggle in the darkness.
Now, a short note on the foreword of this book.
Although my understanding and knowledge in respect to Buddhism is limited at best, I found no fault within the book. So, although I appreciate the caveat put forth by the editor, and although this may be incredibly presumptuous on my part, I don’t think he has much to worry about.