Does it work? If you want to know the “truth” who should you ask? And are you asking the right questions.
Mathematics, it appears, offers some truths. Incontrovertible rightness, say those in the know. Perhaps science in general deals with “truths” although it will be difficult to tell. As in every other sphere of human endeavor, each has his own opinion.
Are there truths in psychology I wonder. Or do we still find that a subjective numbers game underlies the over confident pronouncements of the practitioners.
Subjectivity and small sample size is rightly derided by those seeking veracity in the realm of natural sciences, and yet I must consider what matters more to me. Some universal truth (which will undoubtedly be de-bunked at some stage in the future). Or something which works for me.
By this means will peace descend upon you, says one self appointed guru and seller of mystical pages by the million. Live in the “now” says another and all your worries will become as wisps in the wind. Again, impressive book sales suggest such a solution is craved, the world over. But is it delivered?
And so to Buddhism, or rather secular Buddhism, as it happens. My preferred form. A wise old Indian from way back Bihar taught that all life is suffering. But that there is a way out.
Suffering arises from our cravings, which can never be satisfied. The good news is that our suffering will end if we renounce our cravings, our attachments to the world, our desires.
How do we do that? By being a good person and following a simple eightfold path . And meditation is central to that path. By concentrating and going deep within, our true nature will be revealed and all suffering will end. Whatever goes on in the outer world, our inner world will be a fortress of calm equanimity.
Google Buddhism and its Four Noble Truths. Or its Eightfold path. How will you decide what books to buy. Who to listen to. What tutorials to watch on YouTube.
Good luck with all of that. I came to Buddhism over 30 years ago and wondered what on earth meditation was. How should I do it. How would I know if it was working. Would I disappear into the glorious state of Nirvana. That was certainly where I wanted to end up.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. It doesn’t really matter what the Dalai Lama says (or anyone else). What matters (to you at any rate) is does it work?
Because at heart you see, Buddhism is desperately simple, once you pare away all the religious and supernatural accretions.
What have I discovered over the past 30 odd years. Is it “true” or isn’t it. Or, more precisely and pertinently, has it worked for me.
I’m going to equivocate I’m afraid. I’m going to tell you yes. And then again no.
Have I taken my practice seriously. Well I have certainly tried to be “good” although I will readily confess that at times I have struggled. Have I sat cross legged on a tatami mat for several hours a day for the past 30 years going inwards. I must admit that I have not. And yet contemplation has always been there. It has always been a part of my daily life and I have felt better for it. If I let my contemplation lapse and get too caught up in the world, I always suffer. I do not seem to be able to combine “world” with “meditation”. Mea culpa.
Recently I have been trying rather harder. Or perhaps not trying would be a better way of putting it – letting go, rather.
The effects are remarkable when I get it right. When I concentrate. When I refuse entrance to thought and let my mind stay clear as a bell. In such a state all thought becomes clutter – it is there, I can see it but it does not seem to be a part of who I am.
I seem to be a “consciousness” at such times, a being which is wholly independent of the mental constructs I perennially wear. I feel apart, something different entirely than the ceaseless worrying concerns which so often fill my day. I would not be stating my case too strongly to claim that at such times I am indeed, however temporarily, in a state a Buddhist might call nirvana.
My suspicion would be that I can make such states last, or at least spill over into the more active periods of my day. I have observed my mind work so closely that I can instantly sense the customary nonsense creeping back in. And often these days I can dispel such unwelcome intrusion by the power of will.
Over optimistic nonsense or real progress? I am hoping for the latter while remaining wary of the former.
Bin the books and videos and gurus. The rules are simple and the proof of the pudding is in your eating of it. Either it works for you or it does not.