Buddhism 101 – The Basic Premises and Paths You Need To Learn
Buddhism Has at It’s heart, Four Basic Premises – called the “Noble Truths.” They are:
1. All life is suffering.
2. The cause of all suffering is desire.
3. Therefore, the cure for suffering is to eliminate desire.
4. The way to eliminate desire is to follow “The Eightfold Path.” The Eightfold
Path is the practice of:
a. Right Understanding
b. Right Thought
c. Right Speech
d. Right Action
e. Right Livelihood
f. Right Effort
g. Right Mindfulness
h. Right Concentration
Another essential of Buddhism is the Law of Karma – the idea that your present condition (whether you’re happy or suffering) is a direct result of all of your past actions. If bad things are happening to you, it’s the result of your past bad actions. If you focus on doing good things (making merits), you can improve your chances that good things will happen to you. I know it sounds simple – but it’s pretty similar to the Christian idea that you “reap what you sow” and the law in physics that says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, Karma is nothing more than the law of cause and effect, or balance.
And perhaps more unusual to a Westerner is the Buddhist idea that there are six “realms” of existence – gods, demigods, human beings, animals, hungry (or restless) ghosts, and the hells. That means that everything has a life essence – the Buddha, the minor gods, people, cows, flies, ants, trees, tomatoes, grass, dead ancestors, rocks, mountains…everything is alive. It is part of the cycle of life, and the law of Karma implies that a life form is what it is because of some past action.
Buddhists believe that the only way to elevate your position in the cycle of life is by improving your Karma – and you improve your Karma by consciously “making merits.”
What Buddhism Has to do with Tolerating Uncertainty?
Since “all life is suffering” and “the root of all suffering is desire,” we Thais approach uncertainty as the basic state of life, the universe, and everything. It’s not that uncertainty doesn’t make us anxious or stressful – we just take each day as it comes and have religious rituals that help us deal with that stress and anxiety and give us an inner sense of well-being.
Within the Thai culture, we readily express our emotions of joy and sadness and have no problem expressing those emotions in public. But we do not become assertive, outraged, or aggressive when someone breaks the rules. If someone cuts in front of us in traffic, or at the bank, or at the grocery store – well, “mai pen rai.” They must clearly be on a more important mission than ours.
We do not fill our time with “busy-ness” – we fill our time with whatever comes next into focus. That’s why if you make an appointment to get your plumbing fixed, and someone “more important” to the plumber (his father-in-law, his sister’s boss, or the local magistrate) comes into his shop right after you, the Thai plumber’s priorities will shift to accommodate this new event. He does not want to risk offending this “important” person – nor does he want to risk offending you by telling you he has to change your appointment. All of us then shift with this new event, realizing that our time will come eventually. Mai pen rai.
Since we use religion to deal with uncertainty, we rely less on “law and order” than you do. We rely on each person to be responsible for his or her own karma and the “paybacks” it presents for bad behavior. We also know that who you are, who you know, and who you are related to colors any consequences you will face for breaking the law. Mai pen rai.
Our culture puts its faith in common sense and in the “eightfold path” of right action, etc.,that will allow us to live a good life and minimize the bad things that might happen. We are more tolerant of people who are different, ideas that are different, and cultures that are different, finding the differences interesting or amusing, rather than threatening or scary.
We know in our hearts that if we “make merits” we can hope to create good luck and prevent bad luck, but ultimately, the nature of life is to be out of our control.
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