Pre-Bodhi Season 2019 – The Eightfold Path

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A deer is still One with the Universe. Neither passive nor aggressive. On the other hand, we crazy, symbolic-thinking humans … well, “tangled web” is putting it mildly.

Bodhi Season begins in four days, December 1, 2019! For the days from December 1 through Bodhi Day on December 8, I will post guidance for you towards your great awakening.

For this Bodhi Season, the theme is the Noble Eightfold Path. It is arguably the fundamental principle of Buddhism. In fact, it’s a big part of the great “Aha!” of Siddhartha Gautama’s awakening from the slumber of his mind on Bodhi Day.

Contrary to the word “path” in “Eightfold Path”, it isn’t itself a path. It’s really a checklist of skills you’ll need for the world of the awakened. It’s no different from the basic reading, writing, math, civil, social, etc skills you need to make your way through normal life.

Without the skills of the Eightfold path, you probably won’t even see the door. Even if or when you get to it, you’ll look inside, feel the warmth for a minute, and the door will fade away, leaving you back in the normal world. Without the proper preparation, you’d wither like a coconut trying to sprout and survive in Minnesota – it can sprout in the Spring, but will quickly die win Winter.

So what is on the other side of that door for which these Eightfold Path skills are needed? Well, it’s the same old place everyone else has been, enlightened or not. That is simply to explore this same old Universe all we can for the short time we’re here – but with “different eyes”. Those eyes are opened when you lose your suffering, and you will see the wonders of this Universe and Life on Earth as a wondrous thing.

The Buddha only promises to relieve our suffering so we can be free to learn. Freed from suffering, go into the world and live fully!

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Enso medallions. Custom made for us by our friend, Bonnie Liles.

The Eightfold Path

First, let’s take one step back from the EightFold Path to its source, the Four Noble Four Truths, which is the great “AHA!” of Siddhartha Gautama I mentioned earlier. The Eightfold Path is the fourth of those four truths. I’ve written about the Four Noble Truths which lays out the argument that:

  1. We are in turmoil.
  2. We’re in turmoil because we cling to things as the world relentlessly changes.
  3. If we were to release all clinging, we will be at ease in the World.
  4. To learn how to release all clinging, live according to the Eightfold Path.

This “turmoil” is called Dukkha. It’s usually translated as “suffering”, but I like “turmoil” a little better – it’s not perfect, but better. The original meaning of dukkha was a cart wheel with an off-center axle, resulting in a bumpy, uncomfortable ride. We could fix the situation by either fixing the wheel or build complicated mechanisms accommodating the off-center wheel.

I’ve written very much on Dukkha, particularly What is Dukkha? and a four-part series tying Dukkha to the so-called “Seven Deadly Sins”.

Of course, the easier solution by far would be to fix the off-center wheel, as opposed to trying to fit everything else in the world to better handle this off-center wheel. This is analogous to each of us relieving our own suffering first instead of trying to relieve the suffering of others while we still suffer ourselves. Yet, we often think of working on ourselves as selfish.

But not everyone is after the same thing. Therefore, not everything that worked for some will work for other. What works towards happiness? Different things work for different people. For some, it’s raising a family. For others it’s leaving some sort of legacy or maybe it’s to be left alone.

The genius of Buddhism is that by nature it recognizes that the Universe is a complex system. There is not a single path to a particular place. There is always more than one answer to the same question at a different place and time. The Universe is One and all things are connected. As Ringo said, “Pick any path and you’ll eventually get there.”

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My hidden-in-plain-site butsudan at work. The blue glass fishing net ball floating on water represents the Eternal Fishnu. The emptiness of the glass ball, the empty mind. It sits on a wonderful piece of woodwork that was a special gift.

Buddha in a Corporate World

This year, I’m addressing the problem of your hard-won enlightenment vaporizing soon after you get back to the daily grind. During the Holiday Season, we feel merrier, generous of thought and material goods, even resolved to tackle great accomplishments that have so far alluded us. It’s much easier to experience enlightenment within the slowed down, warm blanket of the Holiday Season. But such spirit and resolutions begins dissolving as soon as the fireworks end on New Years Day.

Enlightened souls are like the proverbial snowballs in Hell. Hanging on to glimmers of Enlightenment while succeeding in today’s corporate culture is extremely difficult … but not impossible.

I work in a corporate environment. There, I don’t choose my projects, the role I play, timelines, or people I work with. Everything I do and don’t do is tracked in whatever project management tool – it is indeed Big Brother. Because in the corporate world we make few of our choices, for anyone at any given time, some things aren’t as you would have chosen for yourself.

It’s Not Them, It’s You

Why don’t I get another job if it’s so unpleasant? The answer to that question is actually at the heart of all I’m about to post over the coming week.

Firstly, it’s not that unpleasant. Secondly, there aren’t really many options that will make much of a difference. Everywhere in the Land of Corporations is for the most part the same. The ecology of corporations is pretty much a monoculture of best practices, spread throughout the population of corporations like biological viruses.

Positions at different companies may be a little better or worse for different people at different places and times. Jobs are like people in that we’re all fundamentally the same with what are rather minor, superficial differences. The best one can do is find a package of those minor trade-offs that best suit your needs.

So leaving one job for another in the hopes that it’s better, or leaving a family to start a new one simply punts the underlying problem, only to face again very soon. That underlying problem is the same suffering Siddhartha couldn’t escape hopping from one spiritual master to another, at different times rich, poor, emaciated – but always unsatisfied.

That is, until he faced it all, awakening on Bodhi Day. Bodhi Season is to stand your ground, where you are, with what you have. There’s no escape!

So having a corporate job is great not just for earning a living, but to expose your dukkha and learn to fix them. How could one learn to swim without swimming, cook without cooking, or program without programming? If I didn’t actually work in a corporate environment right now, as I write this, my words shouldn’t carry much weight. I would question the advice of a monk in the mountains counseling me on working in this screw-tightening world of “agile project management”. Like all of you reading this, I’m one of you – a guy making a living in this world – learning to blend back into all the chaos offering the benefits of my gift of sentience.

I admit that I contribute to this dukkha resulting from screw-tightening. As a Business Intelligence consultant, my job is about somehow organizing information towards the goal of improved output – whatever “output” may be. However, if I think of my job from the “50,000 foot” level of the corporation as the entity, I remove the wobbly wheels of the corporation – the dukkha of an organism that happens to be a corporation.

You, Wake Up!

Some of my colleagues have pretty much put themselves to sleep, going with the flow, collecting their paycheck. As much as the phrase, “going with the flow”, is associated with Buddhism, that’s not the idea. Leaves that are asleep go with the flow of the river. Leaves that are alive leaves buzz with energy.

Some colleagues somehow prosper in one way or another in the corporate environment. Some enjoy the chaos, the challenge. Some are masters at flying under the radar like Milton from Office Space. For some fortunate folks, corporate life happens to fit right in line with their needs and desires. Good for you!

Some colleagues have become smoldering volcanoes. Their careers are an endless string of two-week sprints. They endure a life of looking to Friday afternoon for relief and very soon dreading Monday, even though weekends aren’t safe from crunch times anymore. Everything they say is snide, sullen; everything they do is the least needed to not get fired.

It’s this last group that I’m talking to, you smoldering volcanoes. And there are a lot of you. The good news is that all those stewing frustrations means you are still alive, still looking for the Path.

Guess what?! You’re at the gate!

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This is the End of the Trail for the fearful you. The Entire Universe awaits you on the other side. Kind of looks the same on that side. Let’s be brave and go to where we were always told we couldn’t go.

End of the Trail – For the Fearful You

Fear is just a reminder of something that didn’t turn out well from the past that looks like something we’re facing right now, or may face in the future. However, fear is actually our friend. It so helpfully reminded us over hundreds of millions of years that something smells poisonous, something can easily cut us, some creature is looking at us as a tasty meal or a threat to them.

Fear warns us that we’re at risk of losing something. But before agriculture, money and property, the only thing we really could lose was our lives.

Our monkey brain knows how to keep our physical bodies out of danger from other creatures that are part of Life on Earth. In today’s world, that function is just one vital function among many other vital functions. Now our monkey brain are overloaded with so many other things we’re at risk of losing: our jobs, our material property, our intellectual property, our hopes and dreams, our freedoms – and worst of all, things someone else told us we need.

All such things are things we cling to. They shackle us. There are so many of them that they present us with mind-boggling tar pits of dilemmas for which there aren’t good solutions.

These things we cling to only matter in the past and future. Our clinging doesn’t matter in the present. All that matters is what is right here, right now.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States. Immerse yourself in the moment of reprieve from the daily grind – with all your loved ones, all the wonderful food. Then return to the daily grind the next day, with the spirit of a warrior – focused in the moment, which is all there really is.

See you back at this site on December 1 for the first item of the Eightfold Path – Awakened View.

Faith and Patience to you,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

 

Bodhi Season/Day 2019: