Codex Vitae for Christin
Most of what I’ll share below come from a western interpretation of Buddhist teachings, some with a twist! I’ll add my interpretation too, so please do your own research if you are interested to learn more about the historical facts, as far as we know.
What’s with the lists?
Buddhists love lists. It’s true!* I think it’s because Buddhism came from an oral tradition, with much of the suttas (scriptures) codified many years after the OG Buddha had passed away. So lists are just easier to remember. But one thing to keep in mind, as I had read in Gil Fronsdal’s new-ish book “The Buddha without Buddhism”–if you look at the oldest suttas, the Buddha didn’t even come up with these lists yet! A lot of the OG suttas were focused on the ideal of a ‘sage,’ and how they understand the ins-and-outs of clinging to experiences and letting go. But ‘letting go’ is not an active process (‘let go harder!’ is almost paradoxical.) But if a ‘sage’ sees clearly, ’letting go’ will take care of itself. Trippy, eh?
*Again, don’t just take my word for it, do your own research!
Still, the instructions were kind of vague. So along came lists of practical advice on what’s going on and what to do…
The 4 Noble Truths
You might have heard of some variant of below (taken from Wikipedia):
- Dukkha (suffering, incapable of satisfying, painful) is an innate characteristic of existence with each rebirth;
- Samudaya (origin, cause) of this dukkha is the “craving, desire or attachment”;
- Nirodha (cessation, ending) of this dukkha can be attained by eliminating all “craving, desire, and attachment”;
- Magga (path, Noble Eightfold Path) is the means to end this dukkha.
I left in the scary Sanskrit/Pali words because it points to the issues and misunderstandings that arise from translating 4 noble truths into English.
- One common misunderstanding of the noble truths is that they are nihilistic—isn’t the first bullet literally, “life is suffering?” That doesn’t sound very uplifting. But one explanation is that the OG Buddha is more like a doctor—this is his way of going through diagnosis, understanding the cause of the illness, pointing out potential mechanisms at play, and the treatment options.
- Another common misunderstanding is the translation of the word dukkha, and Wikipedia did an excellent job there listing a few possibilities instead of doing a singular translation. In the older translations, “suffering” is often used to translate the word, but nowadays modern translators lean towards “dissatisfaction.” Which I think is more poignant—it’s this existential angst that persists no matter how “good” life is.
In addition, I really love Ajahn Brahm’s new take on the 4 noble truths where he re-arranged their order:
- Happiness! :) (Third Noble Truth)
- The path leading to happiness! (Fourth Noble Truth)
- Unhappiness :( (First Noble Truth)
- The cause of unhappiness (Second Noble Truth)
This is essentially the same as the Buddha’s teaching, but reordered for greater impact. Some might call this rearrangement “marketing,” but it emphasizes the goal of Buddhism by placing it first. - Ajahn Brahm, Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond
So, let’s investigate the “path leading to happiness!”
The 8 Fold Path
I’ve been taking Insight Meditation Center’s class on this subject, which has allowed me to examine each of these items in greater depth with a community of like-minded individuals, and with guidance from a senior student of Gil Fronsdal’s. This has really helped me “loosen” my attitude towards the 8 Fold Path, because I used to take them dogmatically, which didn’t get me anywhere. One translation I prefer is the use of the word “skillful” rather than “right” for each of the categories, because “right” has a moral connotation to it, whereas I believe the spirit of path is for one to test them out and see if one gets positive feedback.
I also realize that this codex is getting wordy, so instead of telling you the official definition of each item below, I’ll just share a tip for each one from my journal, as we were given prompts each week to ponder. I may revisit and expand on this section.
- Skillful View - It’s useful to keep a quick journal to see how many viewpoints the brain generates throughout the day (for me, it’s a lot!) Once written, it becomes easier to let them go, because some of them are just absurd on paper.
- Skillful Intention - It takes less energy to wish goodwill upon oneself and others, than to have that subtle ill-will/aversion towards oneself and others. Might as well save energy, right?
- Skillful Speech - Take a deep breath before speaking. Especially on Zoom to account for the lag. The bonus is wiser words coming out. The first impulse is usually habit, not intuition.
- Skillful Action - The suttas don’t really tell us how to live your life beyond the basics (don’t kill, harm, steal, lie, etc. etc.) Instead, listen to one’s body—if the body feels more contracted, do less of that. If the body feels more open, do more of that.
- Skillful Livelihood - The state of “wanting” more resources causes suffering, not the lack of resources itself.
- Skillful Effort - Straining to apply maximal effort usually leads to poorer results, compared to applying increments of minimal viable effort.
- Skillful Mindfulness - Instead of “mindfulness,” focus on “bodyfulness” (another interesting translation point from Gil—what was translated as “mind” from Pali might mean body-mind, since there wasn’t such a divide between the body and the mind back then.) Use biofeedback/breathwork techniques to reduce background noise (i.e. rumination, body tension) regularly to begin meditation.
- Skillful Concentration - Tip to come! :) The class is discussing this topic this month.
If you are interested in contemplating the 8 fold path, the IMC course is archived for free online yearly.
In the future, I’ll write about the 5 precepts, 5 hindrances, 7 factors of enlightenment, 4 requisites, 3 poisons, etc… I am still learning more about them myself, and hope to share interpretations after more contemplation and practice.