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  • [乌干达] Buddharakkhita :Cultivating a Peaceful State of Mind: A Buddhist Perspective

     

      Abbot and president

      Uganda Buddhist Centre,

      Entebbe, Uganda

      www.ugandabuddhistcenter.org

     

      The Buddhist practice of mental development or cultivation is very beneficial for living a peaceful life. Moreover, practicing the Noble Eight-fold Path (the Path), the blue print of happiness, is crucial for achieving a peaceful state of mind. To the Buddha, the Path does not only lead to peace, but also, to knowledge, higher knowledge, enlightenment and ultimate peace or Nibbana.  Drawing from the Pali canon, this paper explores the pathways to peace through the practice of the Noble Eight-fold Path , which can be summarized into the three trainings or groups: Ethical group (Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood); Concentration group (Right effort, Right mindfulness and Right concentration); and Wisdom group (Right understanding, Right thought). Furthermore, the paper will throw some light on the benefits of practicing the Path. When such a practice is integrated in our daily life, we can experience a greater degree of peace.

      Ethical conduct group Ethical conduct is based on right speech, and right action such as protecting and preserving life; respect for others property and contentment; respect for relationships or faithfulness in one’s marital relationship; respect for truth and honesty; and living a health and harmonious life-style.

      The practice of Right speech helps to have excellent inter-personal communication skills (speech at a right time and place). Our speech with friends, co-workers and others should be full of loving-kindness, gentle, harmonious and meaningful. Such excellent communication skills are conducive to peace.

      Furthermore, Right livelihood mainly refers to the skillful ways we can earn our living. Holding down a constructive and balanced occupation – one of simplicity, self-sufficiency, and sustainability – is an excellent recipe for peace in our daily lives. Having a sound moral conduct is a precursor for freedom of remorse. To the Buddha, when the mind is free from remorse, it would experience gladness and happiness or peace, which is a precursor to concentration.

      Concentration group. The trio of right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration forms the group we refer to as concentration. The kind of practice of right effort, on one hand, requires us to apply right effort to give up unwholesome or unhealthy mental states such as greed, ill-will, and delusion; on the other hand, we need to arouse the right effort to cultivate or develop and maintain health wholesome states of mind such as generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom. Such a mind that is temporarily free from mental defilements can easily settle back in the present moment.

      Furthermore, we need to practice Right mindfulness. “Mindfulness” in English simply means to remember or to recollect. However, Sati as taught by the Buddha has a more specific meaning: to be aware, in the present moment, of everything going on within us and around us. Without mindfulness, thoughts quickly become impulsive and habitual, leading to harmful words and actions and then later to regret; but with mindfulness, we can overcome and control our sensations, thoughts, and emotions. We can be aware of anger, greed, or delusion, even when they are only in their subtlest forms. When the mind is free from mental defilements is gain concentration easily.

      Right concentration refers to the four meditative absorptions, which we call jhāna. Jhāna is achieved through the attainment of full concentration. During the jhānas, there is temporary suspension of the five hindrances, namely, sensual desire, anger, sleepiness and dullness, restlessness and worry, and doubt or uncertainty. These hindrances not only prevent us from experiencing peace, but also, progress in our meditation. When the mind is free from hindrances such as remorse, it would experience gladness and happiness or peace and concentration.  The Buddha said: a concentrated mind sees things as they really are. And this is necessary condition for wisdom to arise.

      Wisdom group. Among all other kinds of right understanding, this group includes right understanding of the Truth of suffering; the cause, the ultimate peace; and the path to ultimate peace (the Noble Eight-fold Path). Through right understanding that we overcome the ignorance, which leads to untold suffering.  Right understanding helps   to gain insight into the true nature of our existence and embrace all aspects and processes of life: birth, aging, sickness and death. We can begin to live at peace instead of living in self-denial and conflict with life.

      Coupled with the right kind of understanding is the practice of Right thought, which includes the cultivation of generosity, loving-kindness and compassion. The Buddha illustrated the benefits of such behavior in the very first two verses of the Dhammapada. The first verse states, “Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is the chief; they are all mind-wrought.  If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts, suffering will follow him like the cart wheel follows the foot of the ox.”

      In the above simile, although there is a gap between the wheel of the cart and the foot of the ox, one will still eventually pass where the other has gone. In the same way, we will inevitably have suffering strike us if we follow the path of an impure mind. This is due to our tendency to speak or act in ways that are greedy, hateful, cruel, or deluded when thoughts of greed, hatred, cruelty, and delusion arise unchecked by mindfulness. We tend to yield to unwholesome impulses and forget their repercussions.

      The second verse of Dhammapada states, “Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is the chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts, happiness will follow him like his never-departing shadow.”  Interestingly, in the above simile, there is no distance between our shadow and the wholesome person. This shows clearly the immediate joy we feel when we speak or act with a pure state of mind. And while the ox cart was burdensome and heavy, the shadow is light and free. You’ve never felt weighed down by your shadow, have you?  Likewise, there is buoyant lightness in the joy and happiness brought on by our good deeds. There is a Chinese proverb, “If you want to be happy in your life, help others.”

      Certainly, the practice of right thought is helpful in cultivating excellent inter-personal relations with friends, co-worker, family and other beings. The practice of generosity helps us to overcome greed and selfishness; and become more grateful and contented with our life. Also, loving-kindness helps to open our hearts and heal old wounds; and compassion helps us to respond to the suffering of others.

      The practice of the wisdom group supports the practice of ethical conduct; and in turn supports the practice of the concentration group. Therefore, the entire Noble Eight-fold path is the only direct path to ultimate peace.

      To sum up, having discussed the Buddhist practice of the Noble Eight-fold Path and its benefits on mental health, it becomes abundantly clear that in order to cultivate and maintain a peaceful life, free from conflicts, the cultivation of the Noble Eight-fold Path is indispensable in our daily practice.

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