Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor
Anguish maintains its power only as long as we allow it to intimidate us.
Letting go begins with understanding: a calm and clear acceptance of what is happening.
Letting go of a craving is not rejecting it but allowing it to be itself: a contingent state of mind that once arisen will pass away.
Awakening is no longer seen as something to attain in the distant future, for it is not a thing but a process — and this process is the path itself.
Just as a garden needs to be protected, tended, and cared for, so do ethical integrity, focused awareness, and understanding.
Dharma practice: understanding anguish leads to letting go of craving, which leads to realizing its cessation, which leads to cultivating the path.
Understanding matures into letting go; letting go culminates in realization; realization impels cultivation.
Since death alone is certain and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?
By meditating on death, we paradoxically become conscious of life.
Regardless of what we believe, our actions will reverberate beyond our deaths. Irrespective of our personal survival, the legacy of our thoughts, words, and deeds will continue through the impressions we leave behind in the lives of those we have influenced or touched in any way.
Anguish emerges from craving for life to be other than it is.
Self-confidence is not a form of arrogance. It is trust in our capacity to awaken. It is both the courage to face whatever life throws at us without losing equanimity, and the humility to treat every situation we encounter as one from which we can learn.
Ethical integrity requires both the intelligence to understand the present situation as the fruition of former choices, and the courage to engage with it as the arena for the creation of what is to come.
So what are we but the story we keep repeating, editing, censoring, and embellishing in our heads? The self is not like the hero of a B-movie, who remains unaffected by the storms of passion and intrigue that swirl around him from the opening credits to the end. The self is more akin to the complex and ambiguous characters who emerge, develop, and suffer across the pages of a novel. There is nothing thing-like about me at all. I am more like an unfolding narrative. As we become aware of all this; we can begin to assume greater responsibility for the course of our lives. Instead of clinging to habitual behavior and routines as a means to secure this sense of self, we realize the freedom to create who we are. Instead of being bewitched by impressions, we start to create them. Instead of taking ourselves so seriously, we discover the playful irony of a story that has never been told in quite this way before.
To escape this trap is not to pretend to feel otherwise but to start looking at things differently. We are free to choose how to perceive the world.
Does this perspective affect the way you feel about each person? Are you able, even for a moment, to witness these people in all their autonomy, mystery, majesty, tragedy? Can you see them as ends in their own right rather than means to your ends? Can you notice the restrictive and selective nature of the image you have formed of them? Can you let go of the craving to embrace the friend and banish the enemy? Can you love the stranger?
But there is another choice: we can continually question the assumption of a fixed, immutable nugget of self at the core of experience. And we can persistently challenge the validity of the emotionally charged images by which we define others. Through both disciplined meditation and ongoing reflective inquiry, we can loosen the grip in which habitual perceptions of self and others hold us.
A compassionate heart still feels anger, greed, jealousy, and other such emotions. But it accepts them for what they are — with equanimity, and cultivates the strength of mind to let them arise and pass without identifying with or acting upon them.
A compassionate life is one in which our resources are used to optimum effect.
Just as we need to know when and how to give ourselves fully to a task, so we need to know when and how to stop and rest.
The freedom of awakening is a relative freedom from the constraints of self-centered confusion and turmoil, from the craving for a fixed identity, from the compulsion to contrive a perfect situation, from identification with preconceived opinions, and from the anguish that originates in such attachments. The Buddha himself was still constrained by the worldview of his time; his own language, knowledge, and skills; his awareness of what his society would tolerate; the availability of resources and technologies; the geographical and political barriers that restricted him to a limited area of northern India; his physical body, and the laws of nature.
“Talent for speaking differently, rather than for arguing well, is the chief instrument of cultural change.” — Richard Rorty
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