Eastern philosophy — and the Buddha himself — have always had very similar goals to Western philosophy; making us wiser, less agitated, more thoughtful, more appreciative of our lives. All around trying to find ways to live life, and in the process, decrease life’s suffering.
The way that Eastern philosophy has gone about this, however, has been distinctively different from its Western counterpart. Western philosophers look more to intellectual pursuits, the discovery of knowledge and the understanding of truths through argumentation and debate.
Eastern philosophy uses different methods of teaching, such as having a focus on self-reflection, meditation, contemplation, taking walks, and simply making it a point to be present in your thoughts.
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” — Buddha
In the East, figures such as Lao Tzu, Confucius, and Buddha advocate the importance of mindfulness, compassion, and love. It is these lessons that I’ll be covering in the remainder of this article.
The Noble Truth of the Buddha
The noble truth of Buddha is that life is suffering. Life is unavoidably filled with misery. Sex will disappoint us, youth will soon fade, and money won’t spare us pain—you cannot avoid the pain of life.
In the eyes of the Buddha, we should all accept the shortcomings of life. We should experience ourselves living in our homes, sitting alone with our thoughts, allowing the dread of existence and even imagining we live on a veritable dunghill. Dreary, right? But don’t worry there’s a helpful point in focussing on this dreariness.
Well, for the Buddha, he had an understanding that the drudgery of life, the misery and sadness that will rear their heads once again, is inevitable. Allowing ourselves to understand this inevitable misery will enable us to have no grudge or bitterness in having been unfairly let down, even betrayed.
That said, the Buddha was often surprisingly in good spirits — a jolly happy man. He was commonly known to be cheery and sporting a smile.
You might be wondering, why? How can someone that focuses so much on the dreariness of life — the inevitable misery — find happiness?
Because anything nice, amusing, playful, cheerful, or beautiful that came his way was experienced as a bonus in life; as though it wasn’t something owed, but rather an experience of receiving a deeply gratifying addition to his bleak understanding of life.
By accepting and paying mind to life’s shortcomings and dreariness, he strengthened his appreciation of what stood out against it. He teaches us the art of finding love through all the hate.
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” — Buddha
The Importance of Self-Reflection
Extending from this principle, the Buddha tells us to focus on our self-reflection through meditation.
You see, part of accepting the inevitable misery of life, we must do our part to extend those bonuses of life. We must reflect, understand, and then pay forward our compassion, kindness, and love to others.
We can learn to turn ignorance into wisdom, anger into compassion, and greed into generosity.
For the Buddha, this was done through the practice of meditation. By reflecting, allowing ourselves to let go of those negative emotions, those negative impulses — we can equip ourselves to extend kind messages of compassion to others.
Our feelings towards people are not fixed and unalterable but are open to change and improvement with the right understanding and mindset. For the Buddha, compassion is a learnable skill, and we are to practice extending it as much towards those we love as those we are tempted to hate.
By making an effort in this practice, this noble path, loving-kindness becomes a habit — a part of who we are.
Loving Those You Hate
Let’s consider the idea of loving those we hate. We’ve all been there, hating someone at work, getting road rage at someone cutting you off, or maybe feeling angry at somebody else’s political opinion.
You see, we forget the grand landscape of the human condition — that the people all around us have different belief systems, and those people you view as ‘bad guys’ don’t think of themselves as ‘bad guys.’
That relative on Facebook that’s ranting about their beliefs — they don’t view themselves as a ‘bad guy.’
In our process of hate, we forget that we are all flawed human beings. We are all shaped by uncontrollable variables that form the people we become.
We all struggle with understanding how to do the right thing.
However, we can learn from the Buddha that we can control our feelings, compassion, and love, and we can extend these to others with a mindful effort to alter our approach to life’s suffering.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” — Buddha