As I walk the path and find myself frequently going back to basics, I have come upon what to me are the three basic steps or aspects to establishing that platform of serenity. These are all present in what I’ve written before, but I see more clearly now the centrality of these three concepts.
1. Being Present - As noted in my recent post, “Being Present Is the Key to Peace and Contentment,” it all starts with being present. Without being present, one cannot be free of the intervention of thought. (NOTE: one can never be literally free of thought, it is always there like the ego, but one can through awareness be free of its intervention.) If one thinks about the past or the future without being present free of thought, then it’s just an exercise in your thinking mind doing its thing, rather than you observing the truth through your true Buddha nature.
And if you’re not free of the intervention of thought, there is no freeing yourself from suffering because it is your thinking mind, your ego-mind, that is the repository and protector of your cravings. Even if you are aware of the emptiness of all five skandhas and have surrendered your ego to your true Buddha nature, if you use your thinking mind, all is lost and your are at that moment in the hands of your ego.
2 Acceptance - As the saying goes, “Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. If I am disturbed it is because something is not the way I want it to be and I can find no peace until I accept that that’s exactly the way it is right now at this moment.” Without acceptance of ourselves and the world around us, we approach everything from a lack of equanimity which turns even otherwise skillful desires into unskillful desires and cravings.
But in order to truly accept ourselves and the world around us, we need to be free of our thinking mind. We can get closer to true acceptance without being free of thinking mind, but to truly accept, we must be free of its intervention. And since one can only be free of thought in the present, that state is the necessary precursor to true acceptance.
3. Belief That Regardless What Happens, All Will Be Well - Ok, so you’re present free of thought, you truly accept your life and the world around you as being exactly the way it is at this moment, but how do you plan for the future, which must be planned for? It doesn’t just happen.
In previous posts, I have discussed this question, both as to what in general one needs or doesn’t need to be at peace and happy as well as how you go about planning the specific moves to make a change in one’s life happen. In addition to the points about being present free of thought, of observing yourself rather than using your thinking mind, and when you do need to apply your thinking mind in planning specifics, not being trapped by past experiences, the ultimate point is to not be attached to any plans, to know that things will be ok whether they work out or not.
You know that regardless what happens, if you live each moment well, that is, in accordance with the Five Precepts, the future will take care of itself, which is to say that regardless what happens you will have the spiritual strength to find peace and happiness in whatever the situation is because you are capable to being present in the moment free of thought.
This probably sounds very circular. Like, we’re comfortable planning for the future because we know that if nothing changes everything is ok and we will still be at peace and happy. Part of the exercise of observing what you need or don’t need to be at peace and happy is precisely to come to that realization. To know that your purpose in life is to bring joy to others and help relieve the suffering of others. It's as simple as that. All else is ego.
Then why does a Buddhist plan for the future? We are human beings and human beings have a desire to grow. The point of acceptance and the Buddhist path is not to negate that desire but to let it come from a place of equanimity so that it is a Right desire rather than an unskillful desire and craving.