Let’s back up a bit. Buddhism is a methodology for becoming aware in that true awareness relieves suffering. We do not have scientific proof for this assertion so we take it on faith. Through faith Buddhism becomes a religion. The danger with religions, for those of us who have the habit of attaching themselves to externals, is that religions can become elaborated with all sorts of easily misunderstood and rather seductive rituals, rules and robes. To be more exact, it is easy for people who join religions to get cluttered up with believing that the rituals, rules and robes are the point of the religion rather than just helpful tools for reaching the ‘goal’ stated by the religion. In Buddhism, when we forget that the RRRs are only there to help us realize the main purpose, we are no longer on the path to awareness, to being awake. We are merely falling into the delusion of dogmatism. This causes suffering.
The purpose and methodology of Buddhism is simply stated in the Four Noble Truths. The Forth Noble Truth unfolds to become the Eightfold Path. The first two parts of the Eightfold Path, Right View and Right Intention, tell us what we need to cultivate in ourselves in order to realized full awareness. The next three parts, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, outline what we need to do in the external world, on a daily basis, in order to realize the promise of the first two parts of the path. The last three parts, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, give us the tools for dealing with our own monkey mind while we live in the day to day world.
According to Buddhism, the prescription for our day to day suffering is the Eightfold Path. The difficulty in taking our medicine is that we are being told that we need to pay attention to each one of the eight at each moment of our lives. How hard is that?
We can approach the problem of applying the eightfold path to our daily lives in the same way we approach the monkey mind when we are meditating. When we notice our minds (or our lives, or our actions) wandering away from the concerns indicated in the eightfold path, gently take ourselves back to an awareness of our situation. Watch how we are being. Do not judge. (Sit with it, run with it, work with it, eat with it) See if there is anything at the present time that we can do to align ourselves closer to the eight injunctions. This is what the religion of Buddhism is suggesting. This is what being a Buddhist means. Day by day, bringing oneself back to awareness. How hard to take on. How much easier it might seem to simply focus on the robes, or get caught up in the daily excitement of mass culture, or go looking for love, or fight for money. How much easier to externalize our aspirations. How much easier to think that the solution to our suffering lies outside our self.
picture of chinese monks in robes and ritual