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Lions Roar : January 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 55 Nonduality If happiness is possible, why does the Buddha talk first about suf- fering and ill-being? Why doesn’t he just speak about happiness and the path leading to happiness? The Buddha starts with suffer- ing because he knew that happiness and suffering are linked to each other. They inter-are. Suffering contains happiness. Happiness con- tains suffering. Suffering can be useful. It can teach us the compas- sion and understanding that are necessary for insight and happiness. Happiness and suffering are not opposites. This kind of non- dualistic thinking is one of the key elements of a Buddhist con- tribution to a global ethic. The good is not possible without the bad. Good exists because bad exists. The Buddha taught that good and bad are products of our minds, not objective realities. There are many pairs of opposites like this, such as being and nonbeing. We tend to think that being is the opposite of nonbeing. We can’t have the notion of being unless we have the notion of nonbeing. We can’t have the notion of left without the notion of right. But in fact, reality transcends both being and nonbeing. Being and non- being are simply notions; they are two sides of the same reality. Consider the left and the right. You cannot eliminate the right and keep only the left. Imagine you have a pencil and you are determined to eliminate the right side of the pencil by cutting it in half. As soon as you have thrown one half away, the cut end of the piece that remains becomes the new right. Wherever there is left, there is right. The same is true with good and evil. The notion of goodness and the notion of evil are born from each other. Reality transcends the notions of good and evil. Subject and object are another pair of opposites. We tend to think of our consciousness as something inside us and the world as something outside. We assume that subject and object exist independently of each other. But subject and object are not sepa- rate. They give rise to each other. Reality transcends both. If we observe reality over time and truly taste the teaching of nondual- ity, we have right understanding. Once we have this view, the first aspect of the noble eightfold path, then the other aspects of the path easily follow. Right think- ing, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right diligence, right mindfulness, and right concentration all arise when we have right view. The Buddhist contribution to a global ethic contains no dog- mas. It doesn’t say that it is right and everything else is wrong. This understanding is what the Buddha discovered from deep practice and deep observation. We each need to practice mindfulness and deep observation so that we can know the truth for ourselves and not just follow someone else’s teaching. Each Truth Contains the Others The nondual nature of reality is also part of the four noble truths. Although there are four truths, each truth contains the others; they can’t be considered completely separately from each other. If you fully understand one noble truth, you understand all four. If you really begin to understand suffering, you are already begin- ning to understand the path to its cessation. The four truths inter- are. Each one contains the others. The first noble truth is ill-being. The second noble truth is the causes of ill-being, the thoughts and actions that put us on the path leading to ill-being. The third noble truth is well-being, the cessation of ill-being. The fourth noble truth is the path leading to well-being, the noble eightfold path. The second noble truth is the action that leads to suffering, and the fourth noble truth is the action that leads to well-being, so in a sense they are two pairs of cause and effect. The second noble truth (the path of ill-being) leads us to the first (ill-being), and the fourth noble truth (the noble eightfold path) leads us to the third (well-being, the cessation of ill-being). Either we are walking the noble path or we are on the ignoble path that brings suffering to ourselves and others. We are always on one path or the other. Mindful Breathing The four noble truths can’t simply be understood intellectu- ally. They contain key ideas, such as nonduality, emptiness, no- self, interbeing, and signlessness, that can only be understood through practice. The foundational practice of the Buddha is mindful breathing. Before we can commit to or practice any eth- ical action, we need to begin with our breath. Awareness of our breath is the first practical ethical action available to us. This is the only way we can begin to truly understand the basic suffering of human beings and how we might transform it. When we look at all the suffering around us, at poverty, vio- lence, or climate change, we may want to solve these things immediately. We want to do something. But to do something effectively and ethically, we need to be our best selves in order to be able to handle the suffering. Being able to stop, to breathe, and to walk or move in mind- fulness are the keys to the practice. They can be done anywhere, at any time. We can say: Breathing in, I know this is my in-breath. Breathing out, I know this is my out-breath. It’s very simple but very effective. When we bring our attention to our in-breath and our out-breath, we stop thinking of the past, we stop thinking of the future, and we begin to come home to our- selves. Coming home to ourselves is the first thing we need to do, even for politicians, scientists, or economists. Don’t think this prac- tice doesn’t apply to you. If we don’t go home to ourselves, we can’t be at our best and serve the world in the best way. We have to be ourselves to be our best. Our quality of being is the foundation for the quality of our actions. Breathing in, I’m aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I’m aware of my whole body. ➢ page 91