it’s amusing to me how so many of us ‘in the west’ act as if anything may be had within a lifetime if we’re willing to put everything we are into it.
some things just aren’t happening. not everyone can be president, even if the statement ‘anyone can be president’ may be true.
by the same token, not everyone will find enlightenment in this life, even if the statement ‘anyone can be enlightened’ may be true.
the first set of practices a new refugee to buddhism undertakes is the ngondo, a series of study upon four thoughts that bring the mind toward the dharma.
it is an interesting thing, as most of buddhism and all those who give guidance in relation to its practice (teachers, lamas, gurus, etc) say very clearly that this is the foundational set of practices required for any being to reach enlightenment.
most ‘in the west’ tend to read them, digest their ‘meaning’ and then, look up and say, ‘ok, i have this memorized/known… what next?’
this is when the ‘fun’ begins, because ‘what’s next’ is no less difficult and a good deal more insightful — live it.
this is also the point at which most teachers, lamas, gurus, etc. tell us that most human beings will spend their entire lives studying and practicing ngondo.
is it because ngondo is so hard to understand? no. actually, conceptualizing the thoughts is quite simple.
is it because ngondo is so hard to enact? no. actually, knowing what actions it calls for is quite simple.
the reason most human beings will spend their entire lives studying and practicing ngondo is fourfold:
- learning to understand what has been conceptualized in all its many applications.
- learning to enact that understanding consistently and without fail.
- learning to recognize and remove ego from any application thereof.
- learning to be happy with this process no matter where you are within it.
the words used by the great buddhist teachers are exceedingly simple. humans have the tendency to think because a thing seems simple, it is simple. in truth, all simplicity contains within it amazing complexity, just as all complexity is created of many simplicities.
a good analogy of this in practice (forgive the pun) is a rope, or perhaps an onion.
both a rope and an onion look simple enough from the outside, both contain unseen things that would change one’s relation to them were they known — a rope is made of many threads and, should a significant number of them snap, the rope itself snaps and fails. in similar fashion, an onion is smooth and appears whole when one is ‘outside looking in’, but if one begins to peel it, one discovers very quickly that not only is it comprised of many layers, it can be quite difficult to get to the innermost one without tears.
the words of ngondo, the statements of the initial four thoughts that turn the mind to the dharma are very simple at a glance:
- you are blessed with a precious, human birth.
- all things are change and are impermanent.
- action causes reaction.
- all experience of life will contain sufferings and pains.
the four thoughts prepare the mind to consider and embrace the reality of the four noble truths and allow oneself to work with oneself to understand how and why turning to the dharma in this life is a helpful thing.
one of the things i like best about buddhism is that there is no ‘preaching’ and no ‘convincing’ or forcing of oneself upon others. every step is guided by oneself. in fact, one of the strictest instructions given by buddha in relation to practice was this:
“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.” – Buddha
this is the core of ngondo; to think for yourself, to figure out for yourself, to find the meaning or lack of it for yourself, and to know anything of it fully for yourself. no one can ‘make’ you, ‘convince’ you, ‘convert’ you, or in any way cause you to accept a thing. you do this for yourself, by yourself.
as time goes on, we’ll delve deeper into each of these thoughts (and a good many more).