Buddhism Plain and Simple

Buddhism Plain and Simple (Steve Hagen)
This blog is supposed to cover well being, health and mental health as well as philosophy and this is something I have forgotten in the last few months, with the move up north.
I have been meditating for the last 2.5 years since June 2016. I started with Southsea Sangha in Portsmouth ( a crowd who deserve a whole article in themselves, more on that in future blog posts). I miss them and since moving to Harrogate I meditate every Saturday and some Wednesdays with Dechen buddhism on Granville Road near the town centre. They do Buddhist study sessions also which are interesting, but I have so far not attended these much as I have always thought I should have a good overview on Buddhism before tackling particular issues like they do.
For this reason I read Buddhism Plain and Simple over the weekend. Its quite short at 160 pages and tries to get to the point, or essence, of what Buddhism is all about. In summary the author tells us its generally about awareness and to be awakened (Buddha means the enlightened one btw). We must centre on the world of now rather than be carried of by distractions (my interpretation anyway). In this respect it covered how Buddhism came to be. The buddha-dharma (teaching and advice) is grounded in the four Noble Truths
1. Human life is characterised by dissatisfaction (duhkha).
2. This dissatisfaction originates within us.
3. We can realise the origin of this dissatisfaction and so put an end to it.
4. There is a means to get to this point, nirvana.
In short we have to be able to see the world for what it really is and is not.
It then devotes a chapter to each of the four truths.
The duhkha is not exactly suffering as most will interpret it, but can viewed as dissatisfaction.This duhkha can be broken down into pain and change, which are explained quite well and come back to several times in the book.
The origination of duhkha within us is then summarised in the parts of sensual desire ,survival instinct and non-existence (release from annoyances of the world). Among the arguments made Hagen points out that there is duhkha through choice and more with more choice. I found that rang a bell. We are obsessed with options (the saying ‘paralysis through analysis’ comes to mind). Some may think that the quest for enlightenment may carry some moral imperative, but that is not the point or aim, as rules in themselves will lead to contradictions.
The third truth says that any duhkha which arises can also subside. The origins of duhkha (as discussed before) are them referred back to in this context, and how we have to live with them. This deals with right view and I found this part of the book more difficult to grasp. I definitely miss something about being awake.
The fourth truth is then broken up in the the eight fold path, namely right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation.
The second part of the book then tells us how to go about doing these right things and explains each point in depth with good examples. This provides good indicators how how to see and behave. Morality has its own chapter, which I find quite interesting as it does not adhere to any real rules such as Christianity does, but tells us to be as aware as possible to make the best decision for each individual situation that arises. Kant, with his Moral Imperative, duty bound ethics would be appalled at the apparent leeway we are given, but I absolutely agree with the approach. As Hagen points out, there will always be exceptions to the rule (if we have them) and this creates confusion and contradictions.
The Practice chapter then re-iterates the importance of living in the now and using mindfulness and meditation to do this. The two types of knowledge : beliefs and opinions and the true knowing.
The third part of the book discusses soul (atman) and tells us it neither exists or does not exist. It then goes into issues of the the self which I found reminiscent of the philosophical issue of personal identity over time. I agreed with the authors views on the word “I” and the definite perspective here, also with the individual as ‘stream’. One can only try to be awake in the moment, as a buddha is. He then finishes by saying that we cannot objectify anything in any real sense.
The cycle of dependent arising is summarised in the appendix then with a table of how each influences the other.
All in all I found the book quite easy to read, but I cannot say all of it seemed natural. Otherwise I would be a buddha.
Recommended.

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