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Perry Garfinkel

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Four Noble Buddha Quotes

Posted: 02/15/08 12:45 AM ET

Isn't it - I can't decide whether to say "ironic" or "appropriate" - that modern technology now brings us wisdom that would otherwise have been considered oh so 2,500 years ago? I refer here to sharing timeless tips from one Siddhartha Gautama, the prince who lived 500 years before the Common Era, a.k.a. the Buddha.

But sage as he was, as relevant today as when he lived, quoting the Buddha is dangerous business. Nothing he said was written down until some 300 years after his death; it was all passed down orally. By the time it got to us - etched onto soap wrapping at 5-star hotels - something's been lost in the translation, like that children's game of telephone. Who knows, or should care, exactly what he said? In fact, who needs to know the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the yellow hat Tibetans from the black hats, to attain Buddha's nature? The lovely thing about Buddhism is you can take its message at its simplest or at its most complicatedness, and it all comes down to common ethical sense. In the age of McBuddhism, a few pithy pearls might be just the little reminders we need to keep us stumbling forward on the path. And yes, others have weighed in with similar advice - "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," "God helps those who help themselves," "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" - but I find these particularly helpful at various bumpy patches along that path.

"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

This does not mean be cynical and distrusting. This is not reconstituted and reincarnated Abbie Hoffman. The idea here is think for yourself, be true to those thoughts, and base those thoughts on your own experience, not someone else's. It also suggests that we follow our own wisdom, gained by that experience, and not follow gurus or ministers or rabbis or, lately, life coaches merely because they say so. Test their "truth" against your own experience-tested truth and trust yours. This is good advice anytime but it's especially appropriate as we become bombarded with increasingly venomous and often erroneous, if not entirely false, campaign advertising.

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned."

If I could whisper this line into the ears of soldiers on the front lines, and politicians who send those troops onto the front lines, there would be no need to study war no more. If I could recite it to couples who've been harboring resentment for years, who bicker rather than let it go, I predict the divorce rate would drop by half. If I could slip it into the cocktails of alcoholics who drink out of anger, bitterness, frustration and internalized rage against society in general, there would be a whole lot more healthy livers around - and a whole lotta happier people around. If I had a nickel for every time I should have reminded myself of it - but forgot - I would be a very rich man.

"Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world."

In a world of words, where you, me, my fellow writers and fellow readers live, the opportunities to experience the effect (positive and negative) of words are boundless. Same holds true for everyone who speaks words to each other. Or even anyone who speaks only to himself. In the moral compass the Buddha devised for living sanely and serenely, called the Eightfold Path, this quotation would fit into the path called "right speech." If we abstain from false speech, slanderous speech, harsh speech and idle chatter, if we could think about the implications of the things that come trippingly out of our mouths or that come dashingly off our fingertips in emails and blogs (or even in comments responding to blogs) before we release them into the universe, just imagine how lovely communication would be.

"Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it."

My father used to remind me when I'd get lost in life, and I have gotten lost often, that when I was about 10 years old I shared a precocious insight into what motives me, and all people.

"I seem to do best at the stuff I love to do," I am said to have said. Mind you, I was 10.

This is reconstituted Joseph Campbell: follow your bliss. Whether consciously or not, Campbell himself made the bridge to Buddhism in his conversation with interviewer Bill Moyers, expanding on his famous message to "follow your bliss." He said: "If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be."

 

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