Have you wondered why there is so much suffering in the world? In this episode, we continue our series on the Great Minds of Philosophy with a discussion of Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as “The Buddha.” Explore the Four Noble Truths and how to relieve suffering in our lives based on Buddhist philosophy. We discuss:
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How to Relieve Suffering in Life Transcript
Welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. Join us each week for inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian philosophy, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let's begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:28
Hello, everyone, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions with CreativeMind. I'm Debra Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado. We have another exciting episode continuing our series on the great minds of philosophy. Today we're going to talk about the Great Buddha, Buddhism. Before we begin, I want to remind you, if you're listening to us on one of the podcast services, don't forget to subscribe, so you do not miss a single episode of Soul Sessions. I love every episode of this series because I love philosophy. But when I first met you, I was into Buddhism, you were really into it, you were going to a Buddhist center in Denver. Do we want to start talking about that a little bit and how we got interested.
Robert Maldonado 01:12
Definitely want to dedicate this talk to all our Buddhist friends around the world, great work and great philosophy. To restate, we're approaching Buddha’s work as a philosopher, we always reserve that approach because it allows us to ask questions instead of accepting things as religion. We approach it as a philosophy.
Debra Maldonado 01:37
We do know that some people are Buddhists, they study religion. That's not what we're about, teaching the religion of Buddha, but his great teachings. Who was Buddha?
Robert Maldonado 01:49
Back to Denver, it was a difficult time in my life, I really needed an anchor, something to give me some peace of mind. Luckily for me, they talk about it as taking refuge, I took refuge in a little Buddhist center where they taught meditation every day. I could walk over, it was a couple of blocks from where I was living, and meditate. That, to me, was a lifesaver. It was just what I needed. It centered me, it helped me focus, meditation was a lifesaver. I can't express my gratitude enough to the teachers in that center.
Debra Maldonado 02:34
I remember when you met me. Rob had just met me, he had met me two or three months after he moved to Denver, and Rob and I had just met, he didn't know all the wacky stuff I used to do with spirituality. He said to me “I'd love for you to come to this Buddhist center with me, it's a meditation, but don't freak out. There's going to be deities and pictures.” He was preparing me not to get freaked out about it. I was fine with it because I've been through many bizarre temples and all this stuff. I thought it was so funny that you warned me, thought I’d be scared by it. But he didn't know me at that point yet enough to know that I’m not shying away from things that aren't normal. I was reading a lot of Pema Chödrön at the time, different Buddhist philosophies, Zen Buddhism. I really loved the simplicity of the idea of the mind and how it works. Of course, I was a hypnotherapist at the time. I loved anything that taught about the mind. Wonderful impact on my life as well, it actually led me to learn more of the roots of Buddhism with the Upanishads and Vedanta. It started me on that journey of studying in a serious way. But Buddha was around 800 BC?
Robert Maldonado 03:55
A little bit earlier, 500-600. The story is very mythological, it’s hard to say how much truth and or mythology is in there, but it doesn't matter because it's a lesson in being in the world. The idea is that he grew up as a prince sheltered from the outside world, until he was in his early 20s, maybe a little bit younger. By that time he was married and had a son, then he stepped outside of his sheltered life. Of course, he was confronted with aging, illness, and death, which are universal things that make us suffer as human beings. They are universal in that we all have to experience and to confront these things. Aging, illness, and death woke him up to the life he was living: of luxury, pleasure, and being cut off from direct experience of those things.
Debra Maldonado 05:05
He was cushioned, or sheltered from it in his palace, but the average ordinary person in the town was having all these problems and suffering.
Robert Maldonado 05:17
He sets out to solve the problem, the riddle of can we escape suffering or are we doomed to toughen our way through it, bite our lip and accept it as the nature of existence that we have to suffer in this world? He renounced his princehood, left his wife and family, set out to become an ascetic, a wanderer, a seeker.
Debra Maldonado 05:52
Didn't he visit all the different types of religious sects in India — there were so many — and met with different ones trying to discover the answers?
Robert Maldonado 06:05
Story goes that he took on a couple of gurus, practiced with them, focused on their particular teachings. He fasted so much that there's a few sculptures of him where he's skin and bones because he was so intently seeking the answer to the question of suffering, causing suffering upon himself in essence. But he was disillusioned in the end and decided to pursue his own path after a few years of study.
Debra Maldonado 06:45
He did that through going inside.
Robert Maldonado 06:50
The traditions at that time, and they're still around, of course, was to meditate, to discipline the mind, to castigate the body, to bring it under the control of the higher mind, so that the individual could gain their freedom. Anyway, disillusioned with the practices of his gurus, he sets off on his own, and one day decides “I'm going to sit under this banyan tree. I'm not going to get up until I solve this question: Is there a way out of suffering or are we doomed to suffer forever?” He sat there until he reached enlightenment. After enlightenment, he sticks around. A lot of people don't mention his ministry. He’s getting up from under that tree and actually doing the hard work of building a sangha, a community of followers, and teaching them his new method of escaping suffering.
Debra Maldonado 08:19
Those are what he calls the Four Noble Truths. They call them Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths.
Robert Maldonado 08:30
He worked all his life on teaching his methodologies. At the age of 80, he passed away, long life, he did a lot of work.
Debra Maldonado 08:45
He said “Whatever you do, do not make statues of me, do not bow to me.” Guess what? Some people didn't listen, you see statues of Buddha all over the world, in every temple, carved out in mountains. He was more like “You can do this, I'm not special, I've just found the way, everyone has the capacity.”
Robert Maldonado 09:17
He definitely insisted on his human nature. He wasn’t pretending to be a God. They asked him “What are you? Are you an angel of God or some kind of apparition?” He said “No, I’m simply awake.” I'm a human being that's awake. If you want to do it, here's a way to do it. That's the great message. The great philosophy of Buddha is that you and I, as human beings, can do what he did, we can wake ourselves up. He sets out this method of doing it. He's saying to lift yourself up by your own mind, by your own bootstraps, and do it because no one else can do it for you, and no one will do it for you. Like one of our teachers says, no one is coming to rescue, there's no one coming to save you, you better do the work yourself, or stay there, suffering.
Debra Maldonado 10:27
Let's get into the Four Noble Truths. Let's go through all of them, then we'll go back and go deep into them. Life is suffering is the first one, which people hear and might say “I don't like Buddhism because they think life is suffering.” I'm like “That's only the first truth.” The second one is that there is a reason for the suffering, there is a source of that suffering.
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Debra Maldonado 11:51
The third Noble Truth is that there's a way out of that suffering. Then the fourth Noble Truth is the path out of it, we'll go into that. But the first one, life is suffering, is a bitter pill we have to swallow. There is a delusion that life is supposed to be happy all the time, everything's supposed to go smoothly. If you've had a difficult childhood or difficult things happen, something's wrong with you. You shouldn't be suffering, everyone should be happy. If you're unhappy or depressed there's something wrong with you. To understand human nature, with our mind, the way it is, it causes suffering, we have this suffering. There's sickness, we're never happy when we're sick. There's always death that comes. Then aging, how many people are happy when birthday comes around, they look in the mirror. We have this feeling of wanting to stay young forever. The nature of the suffering is birth, aging, sickness, and death.
Robert Maldonado 13:11
What they all have in common is that the life is impermanent. They're pointing to this idea that whatever happiness you're experiencing, whatever youth you have, whatever power, wealth, vitality you have, it’s temporary. Buddha is simply saying, philosophically, you have to be aware of this, or acknowledge it, be very cognizant of it. Otherwise, you're fooling yourself. If you're thinking “If I can just get more pleasure, more money, or more health, or more success, I'll be fine”, you're deluding yourself because that's not how things work. He says to face that ultimate challenge of these truths that we all have to face, we all have to deal with. Why try to ignore them and pretend that things are going to be fine, you're going to go on forever experiencing these things? It's only going to lead to a greater suffering, instead of acknowledging them and saying “If this is the case, how can I proceed? How can I live my life with the true understanding of its impermanent nature?”
Debra Maldonado 14:41
They even have a meditation on death, which feels dark but really is liberating if you understand it. I remember the first place in Denver that we lived, there was a walking path, it led through a cemetery. We were talking about meditation on death, we're surrounded by death. To be aware makes your life so precious. They talk about the precious human life, to make the most out of this precious human life. Those of you who are listening to this podcast and hearing this message, you are very rare. As a human being to be conscious of hearing these teachings, even if you don't understand it, or don't agree with it, but you're hearing it, it’s a huge opportunity for enlightenment, for you to escape that suffering.
Robert Maldonado 15:33
There is a beautiful story I want to add to this piece about Buddha. A woman had lost her little girl, she comes to him inconsolable, of course, in suffering of grieving of losing somebody so precious in their lives. He hears are out and then finally says “I can help you, here's what you're going to do. Go from house to house. When you finally find a household that has not lost anyone in their family, bring me some seeds from that household, then I’ll give you the next instruction.” She gladly goes out, knocks on doors to try to find a house where no one has died, the family has not lost anyone. Of course, she soon realizes that there is no one like, there is no household where people don't lose loved ones.
Debra Maldonado 16:51
She realized she wasn't alone. She came to him in tears and broke down. She said “I couldn't find one but I got what the message was that you wanted me to hear.” When we suffer, we feel like we're the only ones in the world that can suffer or that can feel this way or have this experience. It affects us all.
Robert Maldonado 17:19
I think it turns it around also. The other side of our grieving is compassion. It is what allows us to be compassionate towards others in our true sense because we understand what they're going through. In meeting other people that had lost loved ones, that woman understood her heart can go out to them, she can help them, she can soothe their suffering as well, in her own grieving, understanding her own grieving. It is the seed and the source of real compassion, our own suffering.
Debra Maldonado 18:03
When my dad died, we went to the flower shop to pick out the flowers for his casket. While we were there, a young woman was there, a bride, she was planning her wedding. I was thinking it’s interesting that we're both in the same place for two different reasons. I'm so sad, and it's such a happy occasion for her, and it's the same place. It reminded me of that temporariness of life, she'd probably be sitting in that church too. We've all had those happy moments and sad moment, suffering is not only that bad things happen, but suffering is that even good things don't last in the human life. Let's go to what's the cause of suffering.
Robert Maldonado 18:54
In philosophical terms, Buddha identifies craving and attachment as the primary sources of our suffering. Craving and attachment to what? If you think about aging, we're attached to our youth. We want to stay young, we want to stay healthy, we want to reminisce about the good old days, glory days.
Debra Maldonado 19:24
You always say that. When I tell him a story from my past, he’s like “Glory days.” Also pleasurable experiences. We always think about wanting to go on vacation, or taking a spa day, or wanting to be in love, those things that we want.
Robert Maldonado 19:41
There's nothing wrong with these. It's simply that if we think of them as the source of our happiness, our happiness and our power are going to come from obtaining these things, we get attached to them, that is the cause of the suffering, not the things themselves. The root of our suffering is within our own mind.
Debra Maldonado 20:09
It's the ego driven l sense of I, separateness that we feel in our life from the outer world, that ego driven desire. The mind is the cause of suffering.
Robert Maldonado 20:23
Our attachment and our craving. This is common to all or most of these traditions that grew out of the Upanishads and the Vedic traditions. They emphasize the disciplining of the mind. You have to discipline your mind, otherwise, it goes on very basic cravings. It wants comfort, it wants to stay in its comfort zone, it wants easy things.
Debra Maldonado 21:03
People want to sit by the fire with their blanket and their cat in their nice little cozy house with their little books and just stay inside their little hobbit house, when the world has so much adventure, but it's too much risk. That causes the mind to crave more, to feel a dissatisfaction all the time, it's never enough because nothing lasts. Even when you fall in love with someone, that love that you felt when you first met changes in form, it's not the same thing. When you have success, the money goes in and out. You don't just pile a bunch of money in the bank and never spend money again, money is an ever changing thing. Then also the value of money goes up and down. But you can’t certainly hang on to anything. Again, when my dad died, I think death is such a wake up call because you start thinking about your death and life, I remember thinking that you can't hang on to anything. I was looking at all the pictures my mother put out of all the Christmases when we were kids. I was like “Oh my God, that felt like yesterday, and now I'm at my dad's funeral.” This life goes so fast. Hanging on to the glory days, or to youth, or your kids never growing up and never leaving the nest, wanting things to stay still, it doesn't last. Even when you get good stuff, a lot of times, it's not even as fulfilling as you think it's going to be. When you get it you're like “Now I want more.”
Robert Maldonado 22:49
This is where most people leave the temple, probably. They don't want to hear this.
Debra Maldonado 22:56
They also think that renunciation means you have to give up your possessions. If you do want to become a monk, you have to give up your possessions, you give up your name, all these things, but they're not expecting householders to do that. We have to make a living, we have to have relationships, we have families and all those things we want. It's not about letting go of attachment as in “I don't want anything from this world.” But it's to let go of the ego attachment. Let's talk about the cessation of suffering. What's the way out of suffering?
Robert Maldonado 23:31
This is the third noble truth, there is a way out of suffering. We started to see some light at the end of the tunnel, it’s not all bad news. Buddha in his philosophy says suffering can be overcome by eliminating or working with that craving and the attachment. What is the antidote to craving? It’s being content with what you have, being grateful and contented with what you have. Not necessarily just staying there and saying “This as far as I go”, but understanding that you have a lot already, not just perpetuating that craving of wanting more and always thinking that if I get the next thing I'll be happy. You're understanding that you have to be happy in the moment, right now, and be content with that. Then you can create the next level up your life in a much more creative way.
Debra Maldonado 24:57
It's actually more effective too because I always say that a lot of people are creating from a deficit. It’s like they're in a hole and want to get out of the hole, then go for their potential. Why don't we start outside of the hole? What if we're not in a deficit, we're not below the line but we're good. We've done so much. We’re wise already. Now we're just building upon that.
Robert Maldonado 25:20
The antidote to attachment, of course, is non-attachment. Not detachment, a lot of people interpret it as “I'm just not going to care, I'm not going to care about what's going on the world”, checking out. That's not what Buddha means. He means staying engaged in what's going on, paying attention to your mind and your situation but dropping the attachment to the results, doing your part, doing what you need to do, dropping the attachment to whatever results you get from those actions. Of course, it takes ethical conduct, you have to stop doing crazy things that are causing you more suffering.
Debra Maldonado 26:15
Obsessive thinking or obsessive worrying. I hate the word “crazy” in a wellness type of podcast but it's more like things that are not helping you. It’s not helpful to be obsessed, worried, angry all the time. All these emotions, it's not to deny them, but stewing in it all the time, resentful, worried, always anxious, is not the right way to be. There's no right or wrong, but it’s not a way for you to get out of suffering. You can't worry yourself out of suffering, or anger yourself out of suffering.
Robert Maldonado 26:55
Cultivating wisdom. You have to start to read, to re-educate yourself as to if I don't want to suffer intensely the rest of my life, what is the alternative? This higher knowledge that Buddha is teaching, that comes from Eastern philosophy, gives us a way to re-educate our mind as to what the nature of this life is. And finally, mental discipline.
Debra Maldonado 27:30
That's why meditation is so prevalent in the Buddhist practices.
Robert Maldonado 27:34
Meditation in all Eastern philosophies, all the way from China to India, you see meditation as a central part of mental discipline. It is a mental discipline. A lot of people try to use meditation on its own. But on its own, it doesn't have that power because you're just trying to still your mind without really taking it anywhere, or not really understanding what the purpose of that is. You think if you just relax and clear your mind, you’ll be fine. There is something to that, of course. But without re-education of the mind, re-orienting ourselves to what is the nature of our existence, there’s very little benefit.
Debra Maldonado 28:28
I think too much mental discipline speaks to because we all want to relax. But it's difficult work to teach your mind how to refocus. That's how you think about things. It's not really what you think about but you are molding your mind and brain to think about life in a different way, to approach difficulties in a different way. That's mental discipline. You can you get it through meditating, experiencing yourself, seeing and witnessing your own thoughts, stilling the mind. The last one is the path. Buddha talks about the eightfold path out of suffering. It’s the real nitty gritty here, we're not going to go into each one, but I'm going to read them to you. The right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. You start with one, then you work your way to finally getting to that ability to concentrate, but it's not just thinking positive. It's how you speak, what you're intending, how you're viewing the world, what actions are you taking, what kind of livelihood, all those things that we talked about in the last one about ethical conduct, mental discipline, wisdom are all in that eightfold path.
Robert Maldonado 30:06
The central message here is that the power is within you. If you really want to transcend suffering, I do not like “escaping”, it has that feeling of trying to run away from it. It's more that we stay with it but we're working with our own mind, with the understanding that in our approach to lives, intractable problems, these difficult problems that appear to us to have no solution, in staying with them and trying to figure out a way to work with them, we find that working with our own mind, finding a way to discipline our approach to these problems, we find that peace, we find that serenity, that ability to transcend that inevitable suffering.
Debra Maldonado 31:06
One of the powerful stories we'll end this with is the story Shantideva talked about where someone said “How do I deal with all this life and the suffering in life?” He said “Imagine that the world is covered with shards of glass, sharp rocks that can cut you feet. You have to walk. How can you be in the world with all these sharp objects out there that can hurt you? You can cover the entire world with leather, or you can wear shoes.” You can be in the world with all its shards and all this sharpness, all this harshness. But if you have the shoes, which is the right mind, you can really participate in the world without feeling the suffering of the world. I thought it was a beautiful metaphor for what we're doing. We're not trying to cover everything over and make it positive, everything happens for a reason, I'm gonna take this and make it positive. That's great but you also don't want to skip away from what's happening. You don't want to just avoid it, escape it. But you want to have the right mind around it, where you don't have to run from it or don't have to make excuses or reframe it in your mind, so you can feel more comfortable because the ego mind will try to do that. It'll sound very spiritual when it does that.
Robert Maldonado 32:40
We'll leave you with the three things that the Buddha recommends as a way to build community and start that process of finding peace within you that transcends the suffering. He says first of all you have to cultivate a deep trust in Buddha. Find a teacher, find a way or some methodology that teaches you how to discipline your mind. Without the teacher, it's very difficult to do it on our own because our mind is very scattered and very easily distracted. The second one is the teachings themselves, there has to be a good methodology that teaches you higher knowledge, the true nature of the mind, the nature of your existence, of reality, those teachings are invaluable for us, for the real seeker of the mind. You have to depend on real knowledge, higher knowledge, the teachings that he called the dharma. Then thirdly, the sangha, the community of like-minded people that can support your learning, your practice, that you can use as inspiration and support each other. In one of his great quotes he says “Enlighten each other.” Help your friends, they help you, you help them, together find your way past this suffering.
Debra Maldonado 34:37
Being around people that study higher knowledge versus the people you grew up with, or the people you're used to hanging out with. When you're reading a personal development book, that's weird stuff. But you want to be around people that are growing, wanting to ask life's deeper questions. They’re gonna lift you up out of that suffering of the world, they're going to truly be a benefit in your life and you are to them. Thank you, Rob, for bringing up Buddha as one of the topics for our podcasts. We'll see you next week for another great mind of philosophy, we have more to go this summer. If you don’t want to miss an episode, please don't forget to subscribe. Go out and find your path out of suffering. Remember that you have the power to do that, life can be kind as well.
Thank you for joining us. Don't forget to subscribe to CreativeMind Soul Sessions. Join us next week as we explore another deep topic where you can consciously create your life with CreativeMind Soul Sessions. See you next time.