Muh Boy Da Buddha
Hello friends, it’s my honor to introduce the wise and noble Gautama the Buddha.
Gautama the Buddha lived in Northern India about 600 years before Christ and was originally known as Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha’s father, Suddhodana, was the ruler of a kingdom in modern day Nepal. The young prince lived in his father’s palace with every luxury imaginable, never wanting for anything. Over time, the growing Siddhartha saw a commoner who’d fallen ill, a man who’d reached old age, and the mortal remains of a soul who’d left this life for the great beyond. Seeing these things made Siddhartha aware of Dukkha (translated: “Suffering”), something that he’d previously been unable to see. After learning that there was suffering in the world, he realized that he also suffered deeply. Eventually, he came to see suffering as an inescapable fact of life for all humanity.
Even though he felt suffering was inevitable, he knew in his heart that there had to be a answer to our suffering and he was determined to find that answer. So, at the age of 29, Siddhartha left his father’s palace to join the ascetics in the Ganges river valley. For six years, he wandered India meeting different spiritual teachers and learning everything they had to teach. No matter how hard he tried though, he just couldn’t find an answer to his questions about suffering and the human condition. Frustrated he didn’t find what he’d spent all that time looking for, Siddhartha left the ascetics to find his own path in life.
It was thus that one evening, at the age of 35, Siddhartha sat down to meditate about his dilemma beside the river Neranjara, under what’s become known as “The Bodhi Tree” (meaning “Tree of Wisdom”), Gautama was still certain there was an answer, and he was just as determined to find it as he was when he set out from his father’s palace. While meditating that day, the spiritual seeker found the answers he’d set out to find, and decided his discovery had to be shared with the world.
For the next 45 years, Siddhartha Gautama traveled India, spreading his teachings to anyone who was willing to listen, free of charge. His noble teachings were stored in the hearts and minds of the people who’d understood them and passed down through the ages so others could become awakened as he had. He changed the world by showing people a way we could come to the same realizations he had, and for that he’s become forever known as “The Buddha” which means “The Enlightened One”.
The first time I read anything about Buddhism was at the end of the psychotic break that led to the events of “The Beatdown”. I had ended up in county jail, and I was allowed to order two books from the library each week. Once I’d made my picks, I had to pick a backup in case the two books I chose were unavailable, and even though I’d chosen fantasy novels for my other picks, a beginner’s introduction to Buddhism kept catching my eye. A week later, a fantasy novel and that introductory primer on Buddhism found their way to my bunk.
I immediately fell in love; the Buddha’s teachings made so much sense to me. I loved that it focused on deep, rational thought and said that people should question everything. In Sunday school, I often had questions that the pastor would answer by saying, “Don’t overthink it too much. Just go along with it,” and I was discouraged from trying to reach my own understanding. The Buddha teaches the opposite; he said to question everything and only follow his teachings if they seemed right in your mind. That emphasis on thought and reason spoke to my naturally inquisitive nature. The Buddha didn’t say you had to follow his teachings or you’d go to hell. He didn’t claim a divine mandate. He simply offered his teachings and let others decide whether or not they wanted to follow his instruction after a rational analysis. That tolerant, non-judging stance really spoke to me; I read that entire introduction in a day or two, and continued re-reading it until the jail made me return it to the library so someone else could have a turn.
One of the first things I noticed about Buddhism was how different it’d been from what I imagined. I find it strange that we Americans are aware of Buddhism’s existence and know random bits of Buddhist philosophy, but we overlook the most important of the Buddha’s teachings. Our culture is aware of reincarnation and karma, but people never discuss the core doctrine of Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path.
There’s a lot of misconceptions about the wise Buddha’s teachings, so I wanna hit some of these misconceptions as well as elaborate on some of his teachings. Please keep in mind that I’m an outsider to the religion. I’ve had some help from Buddhists in making sure this paper doesn’t offend, but it’s been made clear to me that my understanding is inaccurate and incomplete at best. If the Buddha’s teachings seem interesting to you based on this essay, I strongly suggest seeking out people with a better understanding of them.
For starters, the Buddha isn’t a god and never claimed divinity. He’s revered for his teachings and those teachings are followed for their wisdom, but the Buddha isn’t worshiped by Buddhists as the Creator in the way Christians worship Christ.
Another thing I had wrong when I first learned about Buddhism is the word “Buddha” isn’t a name. It’s sorta like a Buddhism’s version of the word “Saint”. The word “Buddhism” isn’t a synonym for “Christianity”, so “Buddha” can’t be a synonym for “Saint”. I mean I’m sure there’s been a few Buddhas that were also Saints. There’s probably couple Saints that moonlit as Buddhas on the weekend too. The ideologies aren’t incompatible or anything, I’m just sayin’ “A Saint” and “A Buddha” aren’t necessarily one and the same.
(A Dude named “Saint Buhdchrist the Christian Buddhist” would probably be one woke ass dude, tho)
Anyone who comes to the realizations that create Nirvana by following The Eightfold Path is a Buddha. The Wise Siddhartha Gautama I just told you about is given a special distinction as the Buddha because he deserves credit for thinking up a super effective way for people to transmit their understanding. There’s been many different Buddhas throughout the ages, and there will still be many left to come. Anybody can become a Buddha, even you muh’ dude, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.
That big fella you’re all familiar with isn’t Gautama the Buddha, either. That jolly dude depicted in the statue attached to your hippie friend’s incense burner is a Chinese monk named Budai. His image eventually became popular in Japan and they pumped out a bunch of statues of him. When Asian cultures got to America, our drunk ancestors heard people say he was a Buddha, and because making assumptions about other cultures without bothering with petty details like “factual accuracy” is an American tradition, those Japanese statues became the image most associated with Buddhism. Even though Budai most certainly earned the honor of being called A Buddha. Only Gautama the Buddha is cool enough to be The Buddha.
(Sorta like how I’m A dude, but only Jeff Lebowski is The Dude)
Now, most Americans know Buddhism primarily for the concepts of Karma and Reincarnation due to how these two things are discussed in our pop culture. However, the two principles are generally misrepresented and misunderstood. The understandings Hollywood writers use as narrative tools just don't reflect the teachings of Buddhism very accurately. First up, let’s talk about Karma. Your understanding is most likely something to the effect of "what goes around, comes around" or "do good, get good". The real principle is a little more complicated than that.
Karma means "actions" and the idea is that everything we do is both an effect of previous karmic actions and the cause of future ones simultaneously. However, it's also been explained to me that Karma isn't just the action itself, but also the intention behind it. It's possible to do unselfish things for selfish reasons and those dishonest intentions will change what effect the unselfish action will have on the world.
The example that was used to illustrate this point to me was giving money to a beggar with the intention of generating "good Karma" and having something positive happen in your life as a result. I was told that giving the money for that reason wouldn't generate the same positive Karma that giving the money out of a genuine sense of compassion would, because ultimately your intention is a selfish one.
Our actions and intentions are an effect of previous karmic actions that simultaneously act as the cause for future karmic actions, which in turn cause more karmic actions further down the line, creating a never-ending chain of effects causing further effects which cause more effects. Karmic actions are simultaneously an effect of and a cause for other karmic actions. In this way, the world we see today is the sum total of all humanity's collective Karma throughout time.
Reincarnation is tied heavily to an ancient Indian concept known as “Samsara”. Samsara is traditionally a cycle of life, death, and subsequent rebirth that rules over all living things and never comes to an end. I’m a little fuzzy on the concept, but from what I understand Karma creates “Dukkha” (Loose translation: “Suffering”, “Discontent”, “Sorrow”) and Dukkha causes our rebirth. This particular understanding of Samsara was the one used in Hinduism where everyone is locked in a cycle of life, death, and rebirth with rebirths being decided by Karma. This is only one interpretation of the concept, though. Specifically, this is the interpretation given in the Theravada school of Buddhism.
Mahayana Buddhism, and particularly Zen Buddhism, breaks from the Indian tradition and offers a far less mystical interpretation. Rebirth/Reincarnation in Zen is from moment-to-moment. By the time you finish reading this, you've been changed slightly. In a way, you’re "reborn" with a new understanding with each passing moment. I’m reincarnated in you as an influence which you call upon as a new “you” comes into existence as a result of your new understanding.
All of this works both ways and you’re also reincarnated in the mind of everybody you meet. We’re intimately connected to everything through our actions (which include thoughts and intentions), and are changed constantly by our actions and those of others.
Instead of being a literal cycle of life death and rebirth, Samsara is a state of ignorance causing karmic actions which generate suffering. This creates a cycle where pain caused by karmic actions causes further karmic actions which generate more pain. The only way to end the cycle of pain causing more pain known as Samsara is to gain insight and wisdom. Wisdom frees us from Dukkha (not feeling like we wanna feel) and allows us to be content. This wisdom leads to an awakening, and that awakening is referred to as “Nirvana” which means “Liberation from Samsara”.
Across all schools of Buddhism, “Nirvana” is liberation from Samsara regardless of how Samsara doctrine gets interpreted.
The word “Nirvana” translates literally to “blowing out” like when someone say, “The wind kept blowing out the candle.” It’s a realization that comes with understanding existence. Once someone realizes Nirvana, their relationship with Dukkha shifts and they “Blow out the fire that moves the Wheel of Samsara.”
The Wise Siddartha Gautama the Buddha (aka. “Muh Boy Sidh the Budh Dude”) taught people the realization he called Nirvana came from understanding the Four Noble Truths and living life in according to the Eightfold Path.
The Four Noble Truths are the most important of all the Buddha’s teachings.
Those four Truths came to the Buddha through an understanding of something called “The Three Marks of Existence”: Anicca (impermanence), Dukkha (suffering), and Anatta (absence of self, non-self)
Anicca (impermanence) states that nothing is permanent. There is constant change and definitive duration of all phenomena. Including us.
Dukkha lacks a true one-to-one English equivalent, but is most often translated as suffering. The reason Dukkha is so hard to translate is because it can range from mild discomfort and uneasiness all the way to intense agony, and our language lacks a word with that broad scope. The simplest way to explain it is that Dukkha is the perpetual discontent inherent in human beings which causes us to strive for constantly improving conditions.
Anatta (absence of self, non-self) states that nothing holds its own self-nature. In other words, all things “inter-be” or co-dependently arise. With this comes the principle of non-duality, that subject and object are undifferentiated.
Upon understanding these three marks, the Buddha came to realize “The Four Noble Truths” which are:
"There is dukkha (suffering)"
"Dukkha has an origin"
"Experiencing Dukkha can cease"
"The method of cessation is The Eightfold Path"
The first Truth tells us that all people experience “Dukkha”. This Truth isn't intended to be pessimistic or self-pitying. We need to be aware of the problem and admit it exists if we hope to solve it, much like how you would need to know you're ill before going to a doctor to seek treatment. The Buddha’s teachings are meant as a way to alleviate our suffering, but in order to do that we must first be aware of the fact that we suffer in the first place.
The next Noble Truth tells us that Dukkha has an origin. I was taught that this origin is craving, desire, and attachment. We all wanna eat, drink, and be merry. We lay in bed alone at night and wish we had someone there beside us. We all look forward to the next thing that’ll temporarily ease our pain while we tell ourselves that unless we have that certain something, we’ll never be happy. This need for an external something or someone to fill the void causes us pain and we just want our pain to stop. Once that something is gone, its absence causes us pain that leads us to seek yet another external cure. This forms a cycle where desire causes pain, which in turn causes a desire that creates more pain. This is why I tell people they shouldn’t look down on addicts. At the end of the day, we’re all addicted to painkillers, it’s just that some people’s painkillers are something other than drugs.
The third Noble Truth is that because Dukkha has an origin, it can be brought to an end. If we set aside our craving and attachment and learn to accept life as it is, the Dukkha that we feel as a result will cease. These interpretations of the second and third Noble Truths are the understandings taught by the Theravada school of Buddhism. There are other schools of thought that interpret things in a slightly different light. In the Mahayana school of thought, greed, anger and ignorance are the three poisons (kleshas) which create suffering.
The final Noble Truth tells us that we can be freed from Samsara and stop experiencing Dukkha by living life according to the Eightfold Path.
”The Eightfold Path” is a Jedi mind trick the Buddha bait-and-switch people into hearing him out by telling people, “If you really want the keys to happiness, all you need to know are these Four Noble Truths.” I obviously can’t tell you he meant to be slippery like that on purpose, but I feel like that guy knew nobody would listen to him unless he had a good hook. I don’t think people coulda been all that different 2500 years ago, and everybody knows that nobody gives a fuck. I don’t even think it’s deceptive; I respect the guy’s ingenuity and showmanship honestly.
It’s a set of eight principles that, when applied to our lives, will lead us to the realizations the Buddha had beneath the Bodhi Tree.
The Eightfold Path is a set of eight principles which are laid out in the fourth Noble Truth, and the last of the Buddha's teachings that I'd like to talk about today. The eight principles are Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
("Right" referring to a philosophy taught by Gautama the Buddha the he called "The Middle Way". From what I can the Middle Way is about avoiding extremes like hedonism or asceticism and seeking balance)
I'm always gonna be a beginner, muh dudes. I don't have a phenomenal understanding of the Buddha's teachings, and even if I had spent a ton of time learning about this I’d pretend I’m a beginner so people couldn’t hold it against me when I’m wrong all the time. If you like what you’re reading, take some time to learn about Sidh the Budh and his Noble Truths from the other wobbly walkers on the Buddha’s Middle Way. I’m never gonna be a reliable source of anything except cynical sarcasm and vague allegorical pop culture references.
I’ve been told some things to keep in mind when interpreting The Eightfold Path are the concepts of “Ahimsa” which is a understood to mean fundamental compassion, and “The Six Perfections”: Generosity, Virtue, Effort, Forbearance, Meditation and Wisdom.
Generosity counters greed and comes with virtue. Forbearance counters anger and comes with effort. Wisdom counters ignorance and comes with meditation.
With those things in mind, here’s my interpretation of The Eightfold Path. Keep in mind that I’m still an outsider, and my understanding is both flawed and limited. If you really wanna learn about the Buddha’s teachings, this essay is not the way to do it. There’s tons of groups on Facebook you can go to with questions, and if you live near a metropolitan area I guarantee there are Buddhist organizations you can get in contact with for proper information.
Right View - Sometimes this is also called “Right Understanding”. I’ve been taught this means someone needs a correct understanding of the Four Noble Truths and the underlying principles of the Eightfold Path in order to properly follow the Eightfold Path.
Right Resolve - This is meant to say that you gotta approach the teachings with pure intentions. If you’re looking at Gautama the Buddha’s teachings intending anything other than improving your understanding of life so you can stop to Samsaric existence you’ll gain nothing from them.
Right Speech - A lot of people read this as “Don’t swear,” but from what I’m told that’s a very overly-simplistic interpretation. My understanding is more along these lines:
Don’t intentionally cause harm by lying, gossiping, or attacking people with your words. You gotta choose your words carefully too. Do your best to effectively communicate your points in a way that reaches people without accidentally causing them harm. It’s about having respect and compassion reflected in your speech.
I gotta admit I struggle with this a lot. Everywhere I go people are asking me why I’m so upset and wanna know what they did to deserve my attacks. In my head, I’m making neutral statements completely clear of anger and malice. On top of that I often get frustrated and belittle people I disagree with when they refuse to accept my interpretation of things.
I’m doing my best to be a better person these day. Remembering the principle of Right Speech is a huge part of that.
Right Action - Act in a way that’s respectful and doesn’t cause harm to the world around you. Don’t steal, don’t coerce people with violence or intimidation, don’t bang other people’s spouses. Just don’t be a piece of trash basically. Most people understand this intuitively. You’d have to be some kinda drug-addled sociopath for this to go over your head.
Right Livelihood - Make sure you’re paying your bills in a morally sound manner. Don’t set up networks of thieves and use them to systematically rob corporate outlet stores and sell their merchandise back to them by abusing return policies, then funnel the money into drugs so you can party nonstop. Again, fairly simple stuff that’d you’d have to be a sociopath to misunderstand.
Right Effort - All tasks in life need to be given proper effort to be completed successfully. Be enthusiastic and dedicated to getting the job done right, but don’t be so attached that you become tense and self-conscious. I’ve heard it best described as “controlled, enthusiastic and cheerful determination.”
Right Mindfulness - I’ve heard two different interpretations of this princinciple. The first interpretation is essentially the opposite of Daoism’s “wu wei”. You’re supposed to maintain a constant awareness of all things going on both inside and outside of your mind at all times. Pay extreme attention to what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, what’s in the space around you, what’s going on there and what sensations those things are all combing to create. Where Daoism says empty your mind and just go with the flow, Buddhism says focus your mind and have awareness at all times.
The other way I’ve heard people explain Right Mindfulness is that it’s literally keeping the mind full of an object or concept of contemplation. It is the first step in meditation and can also be called focused concentration, dharana (single-pointed concentration) or samatha (stopping).
I think both understandings apply in their own way, and both understandings have a time and place where they’re correct.
Right Concentration - Right concentration is the practice of meditation. Meditation is the second step in the process that begins with Right Mindfulness. The focus that begins with mindfulness, and the contraction that comes with it, is released into a general state of intuitive contemplation. This is also known as dhyana, Zen, vipassana. Vipassana has some additional nuances to it, but the term fits here. It’s within this meditative state that intuition and realization occur.
Meditation doesn’t have to be conducted sitting quietly. Eventually everything becomes Meditation. Life is Meditation. The goal is to maintain this higher plane of consciousness, which is (seemingly paradoxically) our fundamental mind, so we can always see deeply into our true nature and the nature of reality.
And there you have it folks: My understanding of Gotama the Buddha’s wise teachings. Similar to Daoism, I started using my ghetto-rigged understanding of the Buddha’s teachings because they had practical application in my life. Non-attachment, letting go of desire, accepting things for what they are, and learning to be happy in the present moment were at the core of a lot of what I read; those principles put me at peace when practiced diligently.
The major principle that clicked with me and got carried over from my love of Buddhism into my love of Daoism was non-attachment. In the course of working on this essay, I actually came across a much more articulate explanation for what I was trying to say in that segment of "Use the Dao, Dude!".
Like I said in my previous essay, not all attachments are unhealthy attachments. My attachment to this page, for example, is a positive one that I find therapeutic and it enhances my life. However, attachments can't be too strong and we can't be too dependent on them. If we allow those things to happen, the positive attachments turn into clinging, which causes us pain in some way. Even if you're attached to something, you need to be willing to let it go and move on when the time comes.
There are also negative attachments that are destructive even when they aren't causing harm through clinging. Drug addiction is a great example of a negative attachment that will kill you over time, and is doing damage at all times, not just when you become removed from your attachment.
Now, non-attachment isn't something you can do. It isn't an action you take to become unattached to something. You can't just go, "Okay well I'm gonna become unattached to EVERYTHING!", and then suddenly be truly unattached. That's called detaching and it isn't exactly the same as non-attachment.
Non-attachment is the ability to let positive attachments go without clinging, and drop negative attachments naturally. It's a product of understanding that comes naturally as your understanding grows. This non-attachment is very liberating in life, and has helped me avoid a lot of suffering.
The reason I never felt truly connected to Buddhism on a personal level is because it requires discipline, practice, and structure, and I’m a chaotic sociopath who likes shoot first and ask questions later. I discovered Daoism 5 or 6 years after reading that “Introduction to Buddhism” book in jail, but I hadn’t learned anything in those 6 years. I shied away from Dharma because the words “discipline” and “focus” weren’t “my style”.
The free-spirited “Make your own path!” heart of Daoism connected with me more while sending the same basic message. Historically speaking, Structure and I just don’t get along. “Right Mindfulness” and “Right Concentration” clash with my modus operandi because they require focus and discipline.
However, as I’m getting older, I’m starting to realize attachment to that wildfire, loose-cannon chaotic nature holds me back in a lot of ways. The guy co-writing this essay with me tells me Zen is a fusion of Buddhism and Daoism.
I’m gonna put dedicated effort into learning Zen practice and incorporating it into my day-to-day life. The Buddha’s teachings deserve a closer look. I know I’ll be better off if put more work into remaining even-tempered. I’m always looking for new tools I can incorporate into the patchwork spirituality I’ve stitched together. That Zen stuff sounds like the space between “Siddhartha’s Middle Way” and “Laozi’s Pathless Path” that I’ve been looking for.
That’s all I got for this week folks, thanks for reading. I wanna make it clear that my understanding of Buddhism is often times inaccurate and at all times incomplete one more time just for good measure. I wholeheartedly suggest you get the real story from a real Buddhist, because they’re most likely gonna give you far more useful knowledge than I have here today. This was meant to show you my limited understanding of Buddhism’s core tenets and how I apply that understanding in my life.
Don’t rely on my understanding though. Daoism and Buddhism both teach people to come to their own understanding; that’s what makes them both truly special to me. The answers to my questions won’t be the answers to yours 'cause we’re all askin' different questions. Get out there and find what works for you, then come back and tell me what you find ‘cause I suspect it'll help me as well.
Special thanks again to my friend Dan Rotnem for co-writing both this essay and “The Confusing Zen Explanations of a Buddhist Zen Daoist”. Dan teaches the philosophy and practice of Hollow Bones Rinzai Zen professionally as part of his martial arts studio and is an all around awesome dude.
(Hollow Bones is an American lineage of Rinzai Zen)
If you wanna learn more about Zen and how you can apply it in your life, you can listen Dan’s podcast “Totally Zensible” by clicking here!
Ohioans in the Columbus area can also check out his martial arts studio, Wave Martial Arts, by clicking here!
If you have any questions for Dan, you can email him directly at email@example.com