The first thing I should say is that reading a short article isn’t going to do it. This is just step one, but for any of the concepts below to affect your life in any real way, you’re going to have to sit with them for a significant period of time. If you haven’t explored Buddhist teachings before, I can recommend several useful resources to get you started.
Preferences are not Requirements
We all have a great many preferences, but we don’t have to experience all of them everyday. We don’t even have to reach them in order to be happy or at peace. If we are able to recognize our preferences, we can reduce their power over us, thus freeing us from the confines of pleasure-seeking. This idea can make it much easier to refuse temptation. Let’s say you are walking down the street and see a shirt you really like in a shop window. You can choose to go in and buy that shirt (and you may feel like you need to do that to be satiated) or you can choose to keep walking, acknowledging your desire for the shirt and accepting it, but not letting it control your behavior.
Blind Faith is Dangerous
One of the central ideas shared by the Buddha is to question authority, always remain open minded, and to use your own powers of reason and experience to lead you forward. More specifically, Buddha teaches us not to follow the traditions and beliefs we were raised with until we have thoroughly questioned their value in our lives. This goes for political beliefs, faith in a religion, and beyond. You must be your own guide.
Karma Isn’t What You Think it is
We have a view in the west that Karma is some new-agey concept wherein I kick a dog on the street and then I miss my train by a half second—“Karma’s a bitch” we love to say when something bad happens to someone who has wronged us. But this kind of thinking distracts from the real meaning of karma, which is action. The idea is simply that actions taken with intention yield results. Cause leads to effect. Thinking of actions as seeds sown into the ground for future harvest can give you a sense of your own power to build your reality. You have an empty field in front of you—what do you want to see grow?
To Ease Suffering, Ease Your Attachments
One of the four ‘noble truths’ in Buddhism is the idea that suffering is a part of the human condition. To live is to suffer—ok, so where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us to explore the reasons for this suffering, some of which are, according to Buddhism, attachment to material things, cravings, and ignorance (in the sense of refusing to accept things as they are). We can never feel fully satisfied by our worldly goods, as anyone with a love for shoes or gadgets can attest—there is always the dream of something better, and the reality is never as great as the idea of the shiny object. So the only way out of the cycle is to understand that no amount of shoes, or praise from a loved one, or money in the bank is going to fill us up or satisfy our longings.
I leave you with this video containing two hours of music to listen to while meditating: