Some of us may think that Buddhism is all about becoming a monk or nun and that it is only useful for those who intend to live a hermit’s life. The message of Buddha seems to have no place in our modern urban living.
Actually, Buddha’s teaching is about success too (i.e. success in attaining enlightenment). If we think deeper, the method for spiritual success is equally applicable for mundane goals too. Most of us just never thought of linking them together or perhaps it sounds sacrilegious?
Success in life
Right effort in the noble eightfold path
The Noble Eightfold path is a broad guideline for success in Buddhism. It teaches us how we should live our lives in a manner that is conducive to enlightenment. Within this eightfold path, the Buddha taught us Right effort.
Right effort is all about attitude. If we want something in life, we ought to pursue it with the right effort. That means we must be enthusiastic about it, and be energized by our goal. So much so that we wake up every day, looking forward to this pursuit. In our modern language, we call it passion.
And more importantly, that energetic attitude or passion is not automatic. Many of us have experienced the loss of interest in a goal. We may be energetic at first but we lose momentum after a while. In Buddhism, we recognize that this energetic mind requires rousing.
In the Mahayana system, we identify our goal with a 3rd party. This makes it less personal and therefore, more difficult to give up. For example, if we pursue career success for the benefit of our family, then we cannot give up unless our family is happy, Otherwise, we might be tempted to give in to stress and challenges halfway through and settle for less? That was how I pushed and motivated myself in my younger days.
Likewise, many working parents endured hardship for their children’s sake. That is the logic within the Mahayana practices. If we are doing it on our own, it is tempting to compromise and settle for less.
How do we rouse that energetic mind?
This can be done by thinking the right thoughts and removing the wrong ones. For example, we visualize how we will bring happiness to our loved ones when we succeed in our goals. When negative or demotivating thoughts arise, we need to stop thinking in that way. That constant discipline to think positively also falls under the scope of Right Effort. In that manner, we build a sense of hope and anticipation for a better future.
Managing our thoughts
Besides having enthusiasm, we also need to cultivate various positive attitudes to support our pursuits. For example, we need discipline. We have to rein in our minds to prevent daydreaming and focus on our tasks, Which will lead to productivity. Otherwise, we find ourselves wasting time and not achieving anything. So you see, meditation is not only good for enlightenment, it is also useful for work or study.
Next, we need to develop endurance and tolerance. This leads to an uncompromising attitude to work hard amidst challenging situations. For example, a little sleepiness or hungriness will not deter us from our work.
Besides the above, we also need to learn how to deal with fear and doubt. Discouraging situations will probably appear during our pursuits. The people that you loved and worked very hard for, maybe the ones who discourage you the most. When that happens, we must tell ourselves not to give up on them and remain steadfast in our goal.
All the above seems like we need to have a very strong character to be successful in life. But Buddhism also teaches us the middle path. We mustn’t forget how Buddha nearly starved himself to death through fasting. The lesson from that episode of His life reminded us not to take things to extremity.
While we understand that success can only be achieved through certain sacrifices, we mustn’t be oblivious to our personal health. Nor should we lose sight of our family and friends. At the end of the day, our success will only be worth celebrating if we did not harm others along the way.
May all be well and happy.
A good post on Buddhism. Thank you 🙏
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Thank you for reading and taking time to leave a comment. 🙏
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You are welcome 🙏
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In the Dao De Jing (or Tao Teh Ching), it talks about acting through non-action, or going with the flow of nature.
In the book A Course in Miracles (which merges Christian and Buddhist thought), it says that if there is strain (or stress), then something has gone wrong. It also says, “I need do nothing.” In other words, only the body needs to act. The spirit, which is eternal and perfect, only needs to be recognized. While we are in a body, we still need to act, but we should “do nothing and let forgiveness show you what to do.” Forgiveness means to see only the good in people and to act accordingly.
I have found that if I feel stressed out, it is usually because I am doing something that I don’t need to be doing. Goals can be something the ego wants to accomplish just so it can be proud of itself or see itself as better than others. But if we realize that we are already perfect inside, our only goal should be to experience that reality as enlightenment or nirvana, and to share that realization with others.
Just my two cents. I’m not trying to start a debate, but your opinions and feedback are welcome. Of course, it is your site. 🙂
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Alan, Thank you for sharing your thoughts with everyone. It sounds like you have found your fulcrum point to your middle path. I am not familiar with the Tao De Ching, but it sounds like it requires some effort to position the mind in that kind of attitude? (I am not sure. Like I said, I am not familiar with the Taoist way)
For the Buddhist method, Right effort is required all the way up to enlightenment. In that manner, we mindfully transform our minds or reprogram our minds from an ignorant state into wisdom. state To do that, we “cultivate” our actions, speech and thoughts. This is because at the unenlightened state, we are all deeply confused with our state of being. (our actions , speech and thoughts cement our sense of “I”)
The 1st objective is to break through the strong sense of mistaken identity of “I”. To do that, we need to have a focused awareness. This is done through Samatha meditation. It’s like strengthening our minds. Then we need effort not to overdo that Samatha Meditation, or we end up in a mental suspension of “Nothingness”, According to Buddha’s method, we should stop at the 4th Jhana. (refer to Kevala sutta)
Once the mind has the strength to focus, we then start examining our state of being. The objective is to realize the delusion of self by the realisation and not through thoughts (ideas and thinking) That is why we need to have Jhana. That way, we will know the difference between conjectures and realisation. This is further supported by our practice of the precepts to avoid telling lies. Because then our mind will be habitually prone to truth and we won’t be lying to ourselves. The precept of non-killing will prevent our mind from positioning a preference to “extinguish”. which might cause a mistaken “mind suspension” as enlightenment. And etc. This is just to show how the precepts also support the goal of enlightenment too. Naturally, maintaining the precepts requires effort too before enlightenment.
Last but not least, all the above is karma. Cause and result. Thus to have the result, we need effort to generate the cause.
What happens after enlightenment? I think we can only guess as much. In the diamond sutra, the scripture starts off by talking about Buddha’s daily effort to sustain His life. He needed to eat and thus he needed to find food. From our perspective, Buddha’s activity to find food seems like an effort. And we usually equate effort with something tedious and painful. But for the enlightened being, suffering no longer exists. Therefore, in a sense, their activities are no longer burdened by our type of “effort”?
But prior to final enlightenment, we need effort to reprogram our state of being. Even after we see the state of non-“I”, we will know how we habitually grasp an “I” through our habitual mind. (residual karma). In that manner, we start to “purify our residual karma” or “reprogram our habitual tendencies” Although an effort is still required, it is no longer that painful to clear the residual karma or “reprogram”
Thank you for your post again because it inspires this sharing from me.
May all be well and happy.
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Since I study A Course in Miracles, I will point out some similarities with what you are saying. It claims that we have a false self that we have made. This false self, or ego, wants to be separate from everything else and uses all kinds of attacks to stay separate. Our real Self, created by God, is eternally united with everyone else’s real Self, so in a sense, there is only one Self, or one Mind.
Our job is to realize our eternal unity. We lost knowledge, and it is our job to prepare our minds for true knowledge, which is complete and indivisible. The Course says to “Be vigilant only for God and His Kingdom,” and “I have already told you that you can be as vigilant against the ego as for it. This lesson teaches not only that you can be, but that you must be.” Thus, according to the Course, we must make effort to focus on the Kingdom (of truth) and make effort to ignore the separate ego and all its ways.
Thank you for sharing.