Growing up in the U.S. (California), almost all of my friends were either Christian or Catholic. My family wasn't.
My parents were "religious drop-outs". In no way do I say that to suggest it was bad or good, it was really just the resulting combination of U.S. freedom and hundreds of year's worth of effort to push specific beliefs off on to the rest of the world.
And don't think I'm knocking Christianity. It's not Jesus' teachings that are to blame, but rather well-intentioned but misguided individuals. Those living today that are still pushing their beliefs off on to others simply do it because that's what they were taught. This began a very long time ago, and unfortunately, has influenced many good people.
I can't speak for elsewhere, but in the U.S. that led to a pretty big "backlash" of sorts. Still, today, "religion" as a whole (whatever that word means) is on the decline in the U.S., which in the U.S. really means Christianity/Catholicism.
So, that created an effect (along with certain groups "resisting" scientific discovery, which didn't help). It was the mass "dropping out" of children from the religion(s) their parents and ancestors devoted their lives to, because as we all know we can't see ourselves very clearly (unless we practice), but others can see us with clarity.
Many saw something they didn't like and decided they didn't want to affiliate themselves with it.
Fast-forward, this led me to grow up utterly dumbfounded about religion in just about every aspect. But I have to say, I'm so glad for that, because when it came time that I began studying it I was able to come at it from a much-removed point of view.
I think it's because of this that I've been able to notice the beauty in all the various wisdom traditions of the world, including Christianity, and for that, I'm very grateful.
I can see clearly how Christianity, Islam, and of course Hinduism (among others) are directly connected to Buddhism, and in that I feel rooted to them just as much as I do Buddhism.
At the end of the day, we're all just trying to find peace. And fighting each other isn't going to help us do that.
So whether you're Christian, Catholic, agnostic, atheistic, or something else altogether, consider this a friendly invitation to allow Buddhism to enhance your own life & tradition in a peaceful and harmonious way.
Here's to an enlightened society.
7 Buddhist Teachings That Will Help You Overcome Life's Most Difficult Challenges and Find Peace
We all essentially suffer from at least one of the below challenges, if not more than one, which is why I feel that connecting with Buddhist wisdom, whether directly or through the lens of your own tradition (if you have one) is so powerful.
Whatever it is you're working to overcome, I hope this list can be of help to you.
Here are 7 Buddhist teachings that will help you overcome life's most difficult challenges and find peace:
1. Cultivating understanding + compassion allows us to cool anger
At the heart of Buddhism is the practice of realizing a greater understanding of yourself and the world around you.
What many of us don't realize is that it's this very lack of understanding ourselves and the world around us which causes us to suffer so much.
And one of the ways this can manifest is in a deep anger or resentment towards others.
Buddhism teaches us to handle our anger "skillfully" (a word used often in Buddhism), which means many things, most notably leaning in to our anger mindfully simply with the power of our awareness or "presence", which allows us to "step away" from it and view it more clearly so that we can identify its source and then release it.
This leads to understanding, and understanding leads to the cultivation of compassion, the quality of being able to "feel" what others feel and in so being compelled to send our love to them.
Anger is one of two emotions which leads to aggression and war. Most Middle Eastern warfare is based mostly on anger, anger towards the "opposition" because they defy their own beliefs.
But this anger could never survive under the right understanding. It would be cooled like water hitting a flame.
2. We can transcend fear by discovering its source
Much of what we fear stems from our impermanence and the impermanence of all things.
We're afraid of our own death (so much so that it's the greatest fear of all), afraid of losing our loved ones, afraid of losing our possessions, and afraid of our current life being turned upside down by the loss of a job, special position, or war. We're also afraid that we'll fail and afraid that we just aren't good enough.
Whether it stems from an awareness of the impermanence of all things, or our inner dialogue, we can transcend this fear by learning where it comes from (its source).
This is done through following the path of self-inquiry, or introspection- the practice of looking within until we find the source of our suffering.
Fear is the second of the two emotions which leads to acts of war, this one oftentimes leading to dangerous and irrational acts of self-protection without much cause due to paranoia.
Most "1st world" warfare in the modern era has been and is based on fear more than anything else.
Oftentimes, it's the pain that fear makes us feel which makes us want to run from it (the fear of our own death makes us run from it and want to postpone it at all cost). But if we were to look just a bit deeper, and be honest with ourselves, we'd realize that everything isn't what it at first seems to be.
And simply discovering the truth is healing in itself. All we need to do is observe with our mindfulness, to be fully present for the feelings, to transform ourselves.
3. We're perfectly "whole"
The feeling of a "void"- the feeling that something's missing- like there's supposed to be "more" to life, is universal.
Many of us interpret the feeling differently, but we all feel it- we feel like we're missing a piece, like we're one half of a whole (thinking we need "the one" to complete us), like we need to acquire something to be happy, like we're a part of something greater and need to come in contact with that, like we're a shadow of our potential and need to work hard to become the "greatest version" of ourselves or something else altogether.
Ultimately, this is all one and the same thing: it's the feeling that we're less than "whole".
This is unfortunate but arises naturally without any doing of our own, so there's no use kicking yourself over it.
We can, though, do something about it. The reality is we're not missing anything at all, and so the funny thing is any effort that attempts to "fill" this void is bound for failure right from the start.
In order to "fix" this (nothing needs fixing, we just need to realize why it doesn't need fixing), we need to discover the source of the feeling.
Buddhist wisdom teaches us that everything is as it's supposed to be, it's just difficult to grasp because the world isn't at first what it seems to be.
As opposed to static, solid, and separate as it seems to us, upon deep meditation and observation we realize that everything is much more like a giant organism- impermanent (constantly dying, being born, or interchanged), ever-flowing, ungraspable, and without any real "separate" pieces because everything is interconnected and interdependent on itself like a huge woven tapestry all at the same time.
This obviously makes us feel nuts unless we realize deeply that everything is as it's supposed to be in every moment because this means the world is altogether out of our control, not solid, constantly changing, and through that much fear, confusion, paranoia, and discontent arises.
But if we can work to realize this, the feeling that something is missing- or that "something" needs to be there for us to hold on to in the first place- disappears.
And through that, we realize what I call our "natural wholeness". Because we were "perfect" (just as we were supposed to be) all along.
4. Our mind is a monkey! And mindful meditation can help us catch it.
Stress and anxiety is a great challenge for many people in today's society.
30% Percent of U.S. adults say stress strongly impacts their physical health; 33 percent say it strongly impacts their mental health*
That's kind of alarming, right? Considering that the Buddha termed the phrase "monkey mind" (presumably, no way to know for sure) over 2,500 years ago, and he never once saw an iPhone, iPad, desktop computer, laptop, T.V., or the 1st world work ethic, I'd say "monkey" might be a bit tame for us.
But whether we have a monkey mind, or a steroid-enhanced sugar-injected monkey, it's all the same: we have a crazy, active mind that bounces around like a manic monkey, and the first step before we can discover any greater level of well-being is to bring it to rest.
You might not show your monkey mind how to place chess right away, but with relatively little work you can create a huge transformation within your mind through meditating.
Before the birth of my first son stress started to get really bad for me. Every day I'd feel like I was running, racing, even just going about my daily life doing nothing special. I had so much to do, there was so much coming up, and I had so many "problems" I had to figure out a solution to.
It was meditation, mindfulness of breath, which allowed me to calm my mind and eventually bring it to "rest", removing essentially all feelings of stress and anxiety.
We may still feel some stress from time to time (it's natural), but through meditation and our efforts to calm the monkey mind and gain a clear mind with which to receive insight, we also end up gaining an important tool for maintaining our general mental well-being, not only removing stress when it creeps up but creating an environment in our minds that oftentimes keeps it from ever arriving in the first place.
I have a free, simple guide if you're interested in learning how to practice mindfulness meditation. You can get it by clicking here.
5. We are the continuation of our loved ones (they're in us)
The loss of a loved one will never be "easy", and we won't ever arrive at a state of mind where we're totally unaffected by it, but Buddhism has much wisdom that can help us skillfully manage the sadness and sorrow that overtake us when we lose someone we care about.
In a very real way, much of our loved ones for us existed in our idea of them. Within this idea exists certain qualities that we particularly loved about them.
Think of something you really loved about the person, specifically something you know you inherited from them.
If you can begin to notice these qualities in others, particularly yourself, you can feel some level of healing and connection with the person.
It's in this way that we realize that the person never truly left us. This is how all things are. Their personality, their physical body, and their presence. It's all there, you just have to look a little differently. More deeply at the world around you.
It's there, and you can come in contact with it.
6. We're intrinsically interconnected in the most intimate way (so we don't have to feel lonely)
Many of us feel loneliness, but we don't all feel it the same way. Maybe a good friend or family member passed away, maybe we're rather secluded and without any friends/much family, or maybe we just don't feel like we have anyone around us that we can relate with.
Whatever it is, Buddhist wisdom on our interconnected nature can teach us that we can feel connected to the world around us whether we're around other people (directly) or not.
Simply being alive, you're connected to millions of other "beings"- humans, animals, insects, and other organisms as well as the clouds, the sun, and the trees.
"Insects don't keep me from feeling lonely". I get it, really, but there's more to it than that. We as human beings are all interconnected in a very real way.
The largest and most unifying way? The fact that we all suffer in exactly the same ways, and simply knowing that can bring us together more than anything else.
In fact, it's really our suffering which allows for loneliness to be present in the first place. If you're feeling awesome one day, even if you're by yourself, you don't particularly feel lonely, do you? Even if you're alone you don't, because you feel great.
In this way, we can understand loneliness as simply the result of feeling that we suffer by ourselves.
But we never do, even if we're alone in a physical sense. And now, more than ever, we have ways to reach out to and connect with others who are experiencing our same pain. This in itself can be very healing.
Even sitting and meditating on this knowledge can be liberating. Sit, breathe mindfully, and know that thousands, if not millions, of other people all around the world are going through what you're going through (or something similar) right now in this very moment.
Imagine yourself touching them on the shoulder, and expressing your love and compassion to them. Breathe in knowing that you're not alone. You're in this together, whether they (whoever the other people are out there) know it or not.
7. You are not your inner dialogue
Atop everything else exists the highest teaching, the teaching on the ego- our sense of a separate self.
But before really tackling the ego, another issue confronts us. The ego results in what's often called our "inner dialogue". It's the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, and it's where our negative self-talk lives.
Buddhist wisdom teaches us that if we can come to a place where we can observe this inner dialogue with clarity, through developing greater self-awareness (with our mindfulness practice), that we can embrace it and transform it into fertilizer to grow spiritually.
In the most real sense, this inner dialogue is not us. It exists thanks to the ego, and it's been constructed as a result of the ego coming in contact with our various life experiences. This inner dialogue is nothing more than a story, it's not your "true self".
If we can work to develop greater self-awareness, we can eventually identify this inner dialogue and see a glimpse of our true selves- the enlightened nature in all of us.
1. *Popular Science, March 2015: http://www.popsci.com/chronic-stress-it-could-be-killing-you