The Buddha’s Dharma as it is called, is more than a philosophical or religious belief system. It is an expression of living principles governing life. As such his realisation of the cessation of suffering points directly at the coming into alignment with, and the gradual ending of conflict with, these principles that govern our lives always and everywhere, whether we know it or not. When we look out at the world today we can see now, as has always been the case, this Living Dharma expressing itself in all things everywhere. There are folk knowingly or unknowingly living in accordance with life’s underlying intelligence, and in so doing living relatively free from suffering. There are folk knowingly or unknowingly living in conflict with life’s underlying intelligence, and in so doing experiencing no end of suffering. The question remains, how much suffering are we willing to endure to uphold our position? Or, if you like, how willing are we to yield on our position in order to be free from suffering?
That is now, as it has always been, the predicament and the challenge that faces mankind, each of us as individuals, together as groups, and as a species, seeking to secure our long term future, survival and happiness upon this earth. And of course, we need to stop and make the reflection that there is a vast difference between survival and happiness. The survival instinct is strong in us, stronger even that the second most compelling impulse we are subject to which is the desire to mate, procreate and ensure the continuity of future generations. These impulses are no more or less strong in us than they have always been, but as it has always also been the case, it is not just our genes that we pass on to those who follow in our footsteps, but the very world that they are to make those steps upon. In the same way that some of us inherited good fortune from those who came before us, and others of us misfortune, so too will we pass on such to others in our time.
The Dharma has not lacked for support or scrutiny over the years that followed the Buddha’s eighty years upon this earth. The texts are there and goodness me, how they have been debated, studied and reflected upon. But the Dharma, as I have said, is a living truth, it is there to be seen in the world around us, in each and every moment, always and everywhere. If we are to understand the Dharma we have to do as the Buddha did and look to the world and us as its inhabitants, to observe its workings and see for ourselves the path that leads out of suffering into light.
The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, which together explain the underlying intelligence behind life, the processes and conditions by which it expresses itself as suffering, the conditions under which that suffering comes to an end, and the process by which those conditions for the cessation of suffering gradually come about, are not complex or hard to grasp. Intellectually we can all make sense of them. For as long as there is no end to what we would do in the pursuit of our desires, then there is no end to the suffering we would create in that pursuit. Knowledge alone may prompt us to reflect, and sometimes deeply so, but those deeply instinctual drives of ours, as well as the ones we have inherited and developed for ourselves, have a powerful and inexorable pull to them. Turning them around to the point where there would no longer be a willingness to harm either ourselves or others in the pursuit of such desires will take more tenacity, humility and determination than we might initially feel we want to put forth.
But we are, in the final analysis, still the most intelligent form of life on this planet. While blessed with the capacity to bend it to our will, we likewise have the capacity to recognise when this is no longer appropriate, acceptable or even possible. We live in the same world, governed by the same natural laws as the one the Buddha looked out upon. His world was not in nearly as much peril, as the one we today look out upon. He himself said that the Dharma would only flourish for as long as we do not become so blinded by dust in our eyes that we cannot see the truth when we look upon it, nor hear it when it is spoken. Well the truth is there before us every day when we look upon the world around us and how the beings that inhabit it are faring. In general over time there are periods of struggling, period of just coping and getting by and periods of degeneration and struggle.
Right now there here is a storm blowing upon the world, as there have always been storms; there is much dust in the air and many beings are struggling, both in our human world and beyond. Beyond the obvious struggle to survive which is a part of life itself, we are struggling to find balance, peace and meaning.
Perhaps it is time for us to revisit the wisdom that the Buddha shared with us and see if we can understand, each of us, what it was he was really trying to tell us. But beyond that too it is time for us to brush the dust from our own eyes and look out upon our world and see if we cannot see for ourselves those living truths that he was pointing to. Seeing them for ourselves, perhaps they might point to us the way as they did to him.
In order to see the living intelligence at work within our lives we have to look not to the texts and tales of what the Buddha experienced in his time, but to the life and world that we are experiencing. If what he said was true, then if we are willing to look carefully enough and with enough openness, self-honesty and courage, then we will see this Living Dharma for ourselves. The Buddha was quite confident that seeing life for what it actually is, rather than how we like to think it might be, or how we hope it might be, is what sets us out upon the path that seeks the end of suffering.
The Buddha always said that it is not understanding what life really is that is the greatest cause of suffering. Reaching the point where we see what is really going on in the background, behind our lives, does not come easily. We have to work hard to develop the kind of discerning insight, and subtlety of perception that is necessary to break down the appearance of things to see clearly how life actually behaves. It is through years of meditation practice that the lens of our perception comes clearly enough into focus to pierce the veil and see for ourselves what is really going on here in our lives. But one thing is clear. For each and every one of us who is willing to stand not upon views and ideas but what we come to see for ourselves, that seeing brings us to the point were we free ourselves of the conditioning that binds us to suffering, and sets us squarely on the path to real freedom and peace.
There is no endeavour that is more worth our while putting energy and conviction to in our lives, than the life long journey of refining the quality of our mind through ever deepening meditation practice.