Buddhism has had a great impact on my thinking, and though I may not officially take refuge in “Buddha, Dharma, Sangha”, or adopt the Buddhist precepts as a rule of life, many of its ideas have helped me overcome many philosophical tangles, simplifying and clarifying many of my thoughts.
The appeal of Buddhism for me is its universalism, that the Buddha’s teachings weren’t simply directed towards a specific tribe, ethnicity or culture but were used to describe the human condition, in much the same way as I see Christ and his teachings. Of central importance to both is love or compassion, conceived of and practiced in slightly different ways, but essentially the same. Bodisattvas delay complete release from Samasara (cycle of rebirth) in order to help others in their search for enlightenment and the cessation of suffering. For me enlightenment and compassion have become closely allied if not synonymous.
The concepts that really underpin what I’ve received from Buddhism are the three signs of being: dukkha, anicca and anatta, roughly translated as suffering, change and no-self, respectively. All beings suffer, all beings are subject to change and all beings are lacking in any permanent sense of self. The sense of self itself can change over time, but also it can appear and disappear, much like the light in a light bulb (science seems to confirm this: “I” am a cluster of neurons that serves the purpose of identity in this organism). I think in the realisation and acceptance of dukkha, anicca and anatta, I suffer less, I worry less about these things and learn the meaning of The Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.
The Buddha originally sought a way to cease suffering through spiritual means, and this culminated in his enlightenment, Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, but what he taught was the Middle Way, moderation between the extremes of hedonism and asceticism, that both extremities can become obsessions and thus sources of suffering instead of liberation from it. Perhaps even the pursuit of moderation can become obsessive, so we can say “All things in moderation, including moderation.” The Buddha offered a way to help the world, and so he encouraged people to take what they felt was helpful in their lives and not obsess over or accept all his teachings.
Recently, I saw a picture of the Buddha “going to Nirvana”. It was an image of his death and around his body were his followers in various states of mourning. We tend to think of Buddhism as encouraging detachment and dispassion, yet here is a scene of pain and passion! Buddhism certainly isn’t about denying these feelings, but just not becoming attached to or obsessed over them. Feelings come and go like the tides, like the tides of change. In the acceptance of this we can find a measure of peace, even in extreme times, and develop a mindful attitude of acute observation. For me, Buddhism is a deeper and clearer way of feeling and living, and not letting ourselves become overcome by our passions.