Buddha Shakyamuni attained enlightenment and taught in India more than two and a half thousand years ago. He did not say that all the world’s problems can be overcome by “Having faith in me.” Instead, he taught ways in which we can overcome them by ourselves. The Buddha remains worthy of respect today, because, motivated by compassion, he brought benefit to suffering sentient beings. First, through study and meditation, he discarded all the wrong views, and subsequently taught what he had realised. He explained that our experience of happiness and suffering arises mainly due to our own behaviour and that this is shaped by the state of our own minds - irrespective of whether they are disciplined or undisciplined.
Problems and sufferings arise because our minds are disturbed by afflictive emotions, which can be eliminated. Therefore, happiness is in our own hands. Responsibility for it lies on our own shoulders; we cannot simply expect someone else to make us happy. What we have to do is to identify the causes and conditions for happiness and to cultivate them, and to identify the causes and conditions of suffering and to eliminate them.
This is also the theme of this book in which Jou Smith has recorded his reflections and experience of the Buddha’s teachings. He has gone back to the early texts that he feels are the closest record of what the Buddha taught and, calling on his experience as a monk and a layman, tried to make practical sense of it in this day and age. His admirable intention is to share the valuable insights that the Buddhist tradition contains in order that others may benefit.
This entirely accords with the spirit of the Buddhist tradition, for the Buddha encouraged his disciples not to accept his advice on trust, but to examine it, test it and if they found it valuable to put it into effect. This is why I too advise people to think about what they read or hear, and if they are impressed by what they have understood, to try to put it steadily into practice.
I believe this kind of work is valuable and important. It is certainly useful to try to seek out what the Buddha taught, free of the cultural trappings that may have accumulated in our various traditions of Buddhist practice, and then to try to place it in a contemporary context. I am sure readers will find here much that may contribute to creating greater peace within themselves and thereby in the world at large.
Back to: The Gift of the Buddha - A Happy Life.