|Dr. Robert Puff|
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This issue is about practical nonduality, if I may coin that term. Buddhist teachings are great examples of practical nonduality and probably the foundation for all practical nonduality.
This issue features a sermon entitled Wisdom of the Ages: The Four Noble Truths. It is taken with permission from the website for The Emerson Center for Spiritual Awakening. Dr. Susanne Freeborn is Senior Minister and Rev. Linda S. Siddall is Assistant Minister.
New Thought is founded in the philosophy of monism, which means there is only one essence or energy by which ultimate reality is known. Monism falls under a broad definition of nonduality, but not under a strict or radical definition of nonduality. Nonduality does not say there is only one essence or substance as a statement of what is. Nonduality only makes such a statement because it is not possible to state the actual condition of reality. However, if such statements as "There is only God," are studied closely what emerges is a meaning closer to something like, "there is neither God, nor the absence of God." The latter statement is a way of defining "nonseparateness," which is the hallmark of nonduality.
New Thought has value in that it relates to the broad definition of nonduality and because it is practical. It helps us focus our minds to get things done efficiently in the home, the workplace, the marketplace, and the world while not being too far flung from our knowledge of the nondual nature of reality.
of the Ages: The Four Noble Truths
When you realize the nature of mind, layers of confusion peel away. You don't actually "become" a buddha, you simply cease, slowly, to be deluded. And being a buddha is not being some omnipotent spiritual superman, but becoming at last a true human being.
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche
many holy words you read
many you speak,
good will they do you,
you do not act upon them?
you want to be no different
the Buddhas and Zen masters,
don't seek externally.
pure light in a moment of awareness
your mind is the Buddha's essence within you."
Master Linji (
have rediscovered that which the great, the good, and the wise
have sung about and thought about the imprisoned splendor
within ourselves and within each other and have direct
contact with it. Whether we call it the Christ in us, or the
Buddha, or Atman, or just the Son of God the living Spirit, makes
no difference. You and I are witness to the Divine fact and we
have discovered an authority beyond our minds, even though our
minds utilize it.
Ernest Holmes, Sermon
by the Sea
Today we are going to study the Four Noble Truths as the Buddha
taught them. I cannot hope, in one morning, to do more than
give a sturdy beginning to what these wise teachings can mean in
our lives. Buddhism is about rediscovery of our
"primordial nature" -- our Natural Perfection. We
know that our growth is in consciousness. We are not
"becoming." We are already there. So, let us, for this
hour, open ourselves to the awareness that we are also Buddhas,
with the same potential for enlightenment.
is in harmony with the Science of Mind, of course. All the
spiritual practices and teachings of Buddhism have as their end
the realization that we are integrally connected to all of life.
Even when we don't consciously have that awareness, it is true,
are these four amazing and simple realizations that Buddha taught
and they are known as the Four Noble Truths. Here they are:
First: Life is difficult; it holds for living beings
imperfection, dissatisfaction, impermanence, suffering and pain. The
Buddhist term for this is dukkha. That
is, life includes pain, getting old disease and ultimately death.
We also endure psychological suffering like loneliness
frustration, fear, embarrassment, disappointment, and anger. This
is an irrefutable fact that cannot be denied. It is realistic
rather than pessimistic because pessimism is expecting things to
be bad. Instead, Buddhism explains how suffering can be avoided
and how we can be truly happy. We dont need to be rocket
scientists to recognize that life does involve some suffering,
that things change, folks struggle with this and sometimes
experience deep pain over the way life seems to be.
2. Second: Dukkha is caused by desire for things to be other than they are. The second truth is that suffering is caused by craving and aversion. We will suffer if we expect other people to conform to our expectation, if we want others to like us, if we do not get something we want, etc. In other words, getting what you want does not guarantee happiness. Rather than constantly struggling to get what you want, the effort is best to modify your wanting. Wanting deprives us of contentment and happiness. A lifetime of wanting and craving and especially the craving to continue to exist, creates a powerful energy that causes the individual to be born. So, Buddhism teaches us that craving leads to physical suffering because it causes us to be reborn.
is the reason the Buddhists say we are always changing
things. Now we each know that desire comes in a wide
variety of guises. Our egos work with these desires to
motivate us to act in certain ways. In fact, if we stop and
think about the nature of our thoughts for a moment, our minds
mechanically cannot tell the difference between an appearance, a
thought, and something that actually occurred. How many
times have you thought you had done something, only to discover
that it was all thought and no action ever occurred? When
we are dealing with desires we really need to develop some
discernment between skillful fulfillment of desire and having the
desires in charge or our lives via the management provided by the
There is a way to eliminate this dukkha;
that is to uproot its cause: desire. The third truth is
that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained;
that true happiness and contentment are possible, if we give up
useless craving and learn to live each day at a time. This
is accomplished in not dwelling in the past or the imagined
future, then we can become happy and free. A great by product of
this change in our selves is that we then have more time and
energy to help others. This is Nirvana or
Now I am not going to say that you should not want anything. But each of us knows what it is like to get what we want. The thrill doesnt last very long. Not long after you get what your want, you no longer want it as much as you once did, or you want it to be different. This is a vicious cycle that can run your whole life, digging you into a deep well of debt and longing for things that you can only hope to have. Simply stated, the addiction or attachment to fulfilling ones temporary desires can foreclose possibilities that would bring peace and contentment within the lives we are given.
This cycle is much like bailing a boat out with one hand and drilling a hole in the hull with the other! In the Dhammapada, Buddha says: Those ... who find delight in freedom from attachment in the renunciation of clinging, free from the inflow of thoughts, they are like shining lights, having reached final liberation in the world.
4. The way to do this is by following the Eightfold Path which leads to desire and extinguishes suffering. It is said that by following this path that it is possible to attain enlightenment, and that life becomes a more joyful and fulfilling experience. The Buddha, as well as Jesus, warned us that there will be suffering. This fact does not preclude joy! Nor does it say that we shall be devoid of desire. Consider this, what if we were to develop some discernment about the appropriate use of desire? What if it is a tool that we have been using for a purpose other than what it is appropriate to do? It is the attachment to our own idea of how our desires can be met that is the source of much suffering. Lets be honest, there will always be something we would prefer be different. Nevertheless, we can still find joy within by letting go of our attachment to the outcome. In treatment the release step is essential to the effectiveness of the prayer. The same is true here.
Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and author, said it most powerfully,
"everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the
last of the human freedoms-to choose one's attitude in any given
set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." [i]
Frankl wrote that one can discover the meaning in life in three
ways: "by creating a work or doing a deed; by experiencing
something or encountering someone; and by the attitude we take
toward unavoidable suffering." [ii]
The Eightfold Path is a tremendous model of how we can, through
changing our thinking, change the way we experience our own
lives. Lets take a quick tour through the eight
points on the Eightfold Path.
The first point on the Eightfold Path is also called Right Understandingthe right way to view and understand the world. Misunderstanding occurs when one imposes one's expectations onto things; expectations about how one hopes things will be, or about how one is afraid things might be. Right Understanding occurs when one sees things simply, as they are. It is an open and accommodating attitude. One abandons hope and fear and takes joy in a simple straightforward approach to life.
There is a miracle in beginning to embody that there is more than one possible point of view. When we learn to actually stand in anothers shoes and try out their perspective, to actually allow the idea within our consciousness that others come up with good ideas, reasonable and valuable ways of approaching life, we can loosen our own grip and thus become more fluid in our approach to discovery of any idea.
second point of the path is also called Right Intention. It
proceeds from right view. If one is able to abandon one's
expectations, hopes and fears, one no longer needs to be
manipulative. One doesn't need to try to force situations into
preconceived notions of how they should be. One works with what
is. Our thoughts are pure. The ego's greatest triumph is to
trick us into believing its best interests are our best
interests, and even into identifying our very survival with its
own. This is a savage irony, considering that ego and its
grasping are at the root of all our suffering. Yet, ego is
so convincing, and we have been its dupe for so long, that the
thought that we might ever become egoless terrifies us. It
isnt that that is necessarily possible, but the threat of
it is frightening when the ego is busy being the President of
The best, and simplest rule I have for knowing whether an idea is ego-based or divinely inspired is to look for what would happen if I were to follow the idea to its ultimate conclusion. Divine ideas never do any permanent damage, to be sure, there may be some feathers ruffled, but not one loss occurs out of a divine idea. Ego driven ideas generally glorify someone at an others expense. It may be our selves, it may be someone whom we want something from, but the boost comes at a cost to someone. Right thinking has no such cost.
This is speech that causes no harm. Once one's intentions are pure, one no longer needs to be embarrassed about one's speech. Since one isn't trying to manipulate people, one don't have to hesitate about what one says, nor does one need to bluff one's way through a conversation with phony confidence. One says what needs to be said, very simply in a genuine way.
The fourth point on the path, Right Action or Discipline, involves a kind of renunciation. One needs to give up the tendency to complicate issues. One practices simplicity. One has a simple straight-forward relationship with one's dinner, job, house, and family. One gives up all the unnecessary and frivolous complications that usually clouds our relationships.
"It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual." p.122 [iii]
Livelihood is the fifth step on the path. It is only natural that
we should earn our living. There are, however, jobs that exploit
or damage others, and ourselves, work which may not be on the
path of Right Livelihood. Often, many of us don't particularly
enjoy our jobs. We should form a simple relationship with it, and
one needs to perform it properly, with attention to detail.
sixth aspect of the path is Right Effort. Struggling is not Right
Effort. One often approaches a spiritual discipline as though one
needs to conquer one's "evil side" and promote our
"good side." When we are locked in combat with our
selves and try to obliterate the tiniest negative tendency, we
are missing the point! Right Effort doesn't involve
struggle or resistance at all. When one sees things as they are,
one can work with them, gently, and without any aggression.
Right Mindfulness, the seventh step, involves precision and clarity. We become mindful of the tiniest details of our experience, and in so doing, we become more conscious of the unity of all of life. One is mindful of the way one speaks, performs one's job, one's posture, and attitudes toward our friends and family, in every detail. This may sound as if it is over the top, but imagine what a difference it would make in our lives if we were mindful in our relationships with our families?
The final point on the Eightfold Path is sometimes called Right Concentration, or Absorption. Usually folks are absorbed in absentmindedness. With our minds completely captivated by all sorts of entertainment and thoughts run amok, it is more like we are a sea sponge soaking in a sea of race mind. Right Concentration means that one is completely absorbed in Now-ness, in things as they are. This can only happen if one has some sort of discipline, such as meditation. We might even say that without the discipline of meditation, we can't walk the Eightfold Path at all. Sitting meditation cuts through our absentmindedness. It provides a space or gap in our preoccupation with our selves. It is as if we regularly practice what my teacher, Dr. Bill, would call dying to the world. Meditation is a committed and divinely focused break from the status quo and it provides us with a readily available method of knowing that we can discipline our minds, that there is more to us than the sea of unconscious thoughts, that consciousness can be directed intentionally.
knows that if we are instructed to stop thinking about something
that we cannot stop, that the command to stop doing something
works upon us in a perverse way. But we know that we can
gently and lovingly substitute a particular focus for the
thoughts when they arise, say returning ones focus to the flame
of a candle, to ones breath, or to the contemplation of a brief
bit of inspiring text.
Most people have heard of nirvana. It has become equated with a sort of eastern version of heaven.
nirvana simply means cessation. It is the cessation of
obsession, hostility and ignorance; the cessation of the
struggle to prove our existence to the world, to survive.
One does not have to struggle to survive after all. We have
already survived. We are surviving now, and the struggle was just
an extra complication that was added to life because we lost
confidence in the way things are. With the Eightfold Path as a
conscious practice, we no longer need to manipulate things as
they are into things as one would like them to be.
do we reconcile the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path with
the Science of Mind? Was there some illegal move on the
field of consciousness in our considering these ideas or in
practicing them? Do they violate our beliefs about
prosperity or metaphysics? I dont think so. I
think that these points on the path have us develop our clarity
about what it is that we truly want in our lives. We are
all subject to desire, but desire unmet with consciousness is
race consciousness left in charge of a large part of our
being. Unmet desires are the source of great suffering just
as the Buddha and Jesus have said. Being mindful of what
one truly desires opens one to the Divine flow of abundance and
gets the bloated nothingness of ego off the divine
circuits. Dr. Bill called this retiring the ego for lack of
work. It reinstalls the rightful leadership in ones
life. The principles and practices arising from the
eightfold path lead us in the same way that the realizations
represented by the spiritual hero of the Old Testament, Job,
leads us, to the realization that we have been the obstacles to
our own good and that in getting our bloated nothingness off of
the divine circuits, we place ourselves in the direct flow of
divine happiness and true wisdom. Job said:
"I am the man who obscured your designs with my empty-headed words. I have been holding forth on matters I cannot understand, on marvels beyond me and my knowledge . . . . I knew you before only by hearsay; but now, having seen you with my own eyes, I retract all I have said, and in dust and ashes I repent."
The idea is to get whatever ideas, behaviors, habits, emotions, random thoughts, whatever might be thereto get these things out of the way of our direct relationship with God. Now it is true that Buddhism doesnt view ultimate reality in the same way that we do. There is no anthropomorphic God in Buddhism. In fact, Buddha was a man, a man like Christ who said that you could do these things and be enlightened. "In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world." John 16:33
Thank you for being here today.
[i]Frankl, Viktor E., Man's Search for Meaning, Washington Square Press, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1963
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