You may have noticed an insurgence of ancient eastern ideas making their way into our Western pop culture over the last few years – vegetarianism and veganism is now mainstream, #mindfulness is one of the most popular hashtags on Instagram, and who even are you if you haven’t been on a wellness retreat in Bali? We’re very much in an age of growth as our generation is rediscovering its spirituality and connection to all things bigger than us.
While this is an extremely exciting time, we understand that it all might be a little bit confusing – especially to those who are new to the wellness game. Where do all of these ideas stem from? Which ideas have their grounding in authentic theories, and which have been fabricated? Are you still allowed to participate if you’re not vegan and don’t charge your crystals under the full moon?
Of course you are, my friend. From vegans to non-vegans, hippies to yuppies – everyone is invited to join in on the enlightenment journey, because our goal of deeper connection is common.
The ideas that found this 21st century enlightenment movement have their roots in Buddhist philosophy, which is one of the oldest and most diverse philosophical theories in the world. If you’ve tried to research it and given up after being inundated with (often conflicting) information – we understand. There’s a lot to it, and there’s a lot of misleading information to trough through. It’s tough to know where to start.
To help demystify things and clear stuff up, we’ve put together a list of 5 facts about Buddhist philosophy. Hopefully this will answer some questions, squash some common misconceptions, and, most importantly, give those who are interested a place to begin their wellness journey.
1. Buddhism is not a religion.
Contrary to popular belief, Buddhism is not actually a “religion” in the traditional sense because it does not have an object of worship. Gautama Siddhartha, who came to be known as the Buddha, was an enlightened teacher who dedicated his life to learning the various causes of suffering and how to overcome them. His teachings are what are referred to in Buddhist theory.
So, while Buddhism may inform many of the world’s religions, it is not a religion in and of itself. Therefore, you don’t have to be religious in order to practice a Buddhist life and implement Buddhist ideas. If you are religious, however, that’s also cool – Buddhism is compatible with many of the world’s organised religions, too.
2. Buddhism holds that to be human is to suffer constantly, and that’s actually okay.
Buddhism is founded on the Four Noble Truths, the first of which is Dukkha – “to be human is to suffer.” This is the most simple and irrefutable fact of our nature, and the sooner we accept it, the sooner we can learn to master our suffering. From subconscious suffering like hunger in anticipation for our next meal, to more obvert instances of suffering like grief, we’re constantly yearning for something. We struggle to ever attain true satisfaction and comfort in our day to day routines, because once we satisfy one craving of the body, heart or soul, another pops up in this place. And this is a constant cycle.
Unlike traditional Western ideas which often hold that suffering is the result of weakness or punishment, Buddhism holds that suffering is built into the fabric of our existence and is neither a good or a bad thing – and certainly isn’t a punishment or a result of weakness. It simply is, and it’s up to us what attitude we take towards it and what we do with it. Buddhist teachings and lifestyle ideas are geared towards helping us master the emotions that are associated with suffering, giving our suffering a constructive hold over us instead of a negative one.
3. Nirvāna isn’t just a band?…
First of all, Nirvana is band and they are very cool - but Kurt and his mates borrowed the band name from the popular and very mysterious Buddhist idea, Nirvāna.
Put simply, Nirvāna is the state that a person enters once the highest possible value is realised in their life, and once all suffering and attachment is transcended. Different practices of Buddhism around the world have different ideas about what this means – some think it’s the state that’s entered through deep and genuine meditation, some think it’s the final point of the reincarnation cycle, and some think it’s a lifestyle that is reached once one’s actions etc. are completely balanced.
The commonality between all of these interpretations is that Nirvāna is the term used to describe the ultimate existential state.
4. Buddhism teaches that we ought to show compassion for all, including (and starting with) yourself.
In Buddhist teaching, compassion is what’s at the heart of overcoming our suffering. Compassion is to recognise that we’re all in this crazy journey together, and is to show patience with others as they orient their suffering and their own existential confusion. It’s to recognise that others’ hurtful actions towards us come from a place of their own suffering. The deeper the hurt they inflict, the deeper their own suffering is.
One must show themselves compassion in the first instance, though. Love for the self must come before anything else, as this is what’s needed in order to show compassion to others properly. Self-love and compassion means showing yourself patience, forgiving yourself for your own toxic behaviour, nourishing your body through diet and exercise, accepting (and embracing) your flaws and setting boundaries with others.
A compassionate person is the highest and most moral agent in Buddhist ethics.
5. Apparently we’re all learners, and we’re gonna mess up... like, a lot.
We’re fallible beings and we will never, ever be perfect. And the good news is: we’re not meant to be.
According to Buddhism, any action was at one time exactly what we wanted, and exactly what was needed – as toxic or as destructive as that action might have been. In the consequences of that action lay important lessons which we needed. Sometimes these lessons are obvious to us, sometimes they’re not - but regardless, they’re always there.
A healthy and compassionate attitude towards our mistakes help to shift these things from being sources of shame and guilt into opportunities for growth.
We’re never going to be able to shed our humanness, and so we’re therefore never going to stop making mistakes. The more we practice compassion, though, the less the gravity of the suffering associated with our mistakes will be.
There you have it, folks - a few of the most key (and coolest) teachings in Buddhist philosophy. The bottom line: love others and love yourself. This is the profound simplicity that founds every green smoothie and every sun salutation.
Pretty cool, right? We certainly think so!
If there are any parts of this post that you’ve got questions about or you’d like us to elaborate on, let us know, we’d love to chat more about it. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with us on the socials.