More from Bhikkhu Bodhi:
One of the most obvious and inescapable of these truths is also among the most difficult for us to fully acknowledge, namely, that we are bound to grow old, fall ill, and die. It is commonly assumed that the Buddha beckons us to recognize the reality of old age and death in order to motivate us to enter the path of renunciation leading to Nibbāna, complete liberation from the round of birth and death. However, while this may be his ultimate intention, it is not the first response he seeks to evoke in us when we turn to him for guidance. The initial response the Buddha intends to arouse in us is an ethical one. By calling our attention to our bondage to old age and death, he seeks to inspire in us a firm resolution to turn away from unwholesome ways of living and to embrace instead wholesome alternatives.
– from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Introduction to chapter “The Human Condition” in In the Buddha’s Words
These words succinctly state my purpose with this blog. At various times in our lives, we have a flash of insight that life is short, that we have limited time at our disposal. With this knowledge, we can ask ourselves, “What’s most important to do or not do?”
As a down-to-earth sage once said, if you find yourself in a hole, the first thing is to stop digging. With even a little bit of wisdom, we can see that this means we should stop causing harm, to ourselves and each other. Once we abandon our most egregious ways of causing pain and difficulty, we experience the relief and joy of moving towards harmlessness. In time, we come to see that the guidelines the Buddha laid out allow us to make decisions based on whether our actions and words are wholesome or unwholesome. This framework is both practical and profound; it can give us a sense of clarity and direction, not orienting towards a material goal as our primary purpose, but towards freedom from dukkha.
It’s a step-by-step process, but most rewarding. As our confidence in the path grows, our happiness increases based on our reducing different types of suffering that we only gradually become aware of. This is the big “secret” of the Buddha’s path: freedom comes from lightening our burden (of clinging). It’s not a matter of acquiring anything (really!), but of de-acquisitioning or wearing away our unhelpful attitudes and actions. As a result, a state of mind that is light and joyful grows, and the benefits are experienced not only by us but by all we come into contact with.