Note: This section includes excerpts, articles, and notes on various topics related to spiritual practice.
Buddhism: Precious Insights for Life
In the Buddhist tradition, four topics of reflection (or contemplation) have been used to help turn the mind toward spiritual realities. These four areas of reflection have already been introduced on this website:
(1) Precious human birth: Life has wonderful qualities and is a precious opportunity. The first reflection concerns the extraordinary potential of human existence.
(2) Impermanence and death: This life is impermanent and can end unexpectedly. The second contemplation invites us to observe the transient nature of everything in general, and life in particular, so as to encourage us to make the best use of the limited time available.
(3) Karma: Life is governed by cause and effect. The third reflection is the law of the cause and effect of actions. If we want to reduce suffering and achieve enlightenment, as with any other goal, we need to go about it in the right way. There are things to be done and others to be avoided because each of our actions inevitably affects both ourselves and the outside world. This reflection helps us to understand the consequences of our behaviour and the conclusions we can draw from that understanding.
(4) Suffering: Life is not without difficulties, frustrations, and heartaches. The fourth contemplation concerns the defects of worldly existence, because of conditioned existence characterized by ignorance and suffering.
(Four contemplations have been adapted from Ricard, Matthieu. On the Path to Enlightenment: Heart Advice from the Great Tibetan Masters. Boston: Shambhala, 2013.)
For some people, a period of suffering in life can be the catalyst to turn the mind toward earnestly considering spiritual realities, and the need for a spiritual path of practice.
In the life of the website author, it was during a period of personal suffering that he was introduced to Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths. The claims of the Four Noble Truths, including the end of suffering, became a catalyst to explore in greater depth the Four Noble Truths.
In his exploration and study of Buddhism, the author found that this faith tradition was:
(1) Reality-based – true to lived experience.
(2) Inclusive – speaking to people on any spiritual path or none.
(3) Timeless – relevant yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
(4) Universal – able to benefit people’s lives across a broad spectrum.
Three other criteria have guided the author’s study of Buddhism:
(1) Does it make sense? (Cognitive domain — knowledge or mental skills)
(2) Does it provide deeply satisfying answers for life? (Affective domain — attitude or feelings/emotions)
(3) Is it practical/useful in life? (Psychomotor domain — physical/manual skills)
(These three areas can be readily remembered as: (1) head, (2) heart, (3) hands.)
After seven years of intensive study of Buddhism, the author found that Buddhism made sense, provided satisfying answers for life, and was beneficial for living. Essential, however, is that these three conclusions do not negate other faith traditions.
In his Buddhist studies, the author found the Lamrim teachings extremely helpful.
The Lamrim (Tibetan: “stages of the path”) organizes the Buddha’s teachings into a complete step-by-step path to enlightenment. It organizes the teachings according to three levels of spiritual capacity: people of modest ability, people of medium ability, and people of high ability.
This step-by-step approach to the teachings was set out by Atisha in his 11th-century root text A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. It was subsequently adopted by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
A separate website that gives an overview of the lamrim tradition and genre has been developed by the author: http://www.lamrimpath.org/