Just as space explorers need to go to an orbiting platform before venturing into deep space, I felt I needed to create a platform of serenity upon which to build further explorations of my mind. That serenity was also essential to maintaining the calm abiding in which to make daily life decisions that are consistent with the path.
I had thought that serenity would come as a natural product of meditation. But although I meditated daily, it didn’t seem to increase my serenity.
For meditation to “work”, I realized that not only is it important to create a physical atmosphere that is calm, it is important to have a psyche that, if not abidingly calm, at least is not in constant turmoil. Otherwise, try as I may to focus on my breathing during meditation, my mind would be bombarded with thoughts of the unfinished business of my life; my ego would not give me much rest. I was perhaps calm during meditation, but I did not experience much peace.
And so I slowly built a platform of serenity. I have described this process in a chapter that can be found in all 3 of my Practical Buddhist Series books ... “Creating a Platform of Serenity.” I have included it in all the books because it is I believe an essential initial step for a contemporary person walking the Buddhist path. It is a practical, realizable approach. It speaks to the goal of attaining a serenity that enables one to begin experiencing peace, happiness, and hope in the present by beginning to lift obstructions and frustration from your mind and soul … a serenity we need to walk the Buddhist path.
The foundation for this platform and the one absolutely essential ingredient to making progress on the Buddhist path is belief in the teachings of the Buddha. Without that belief free of doubt, there can be no progress.
Because following the Buddhist path means going against the grain of almost everything in our learned experience, everything our ego and our culture tells us, I quickly found that it is not a walk in the park. It requires commitment, discipline and patience. And to be able to apply those three practices in the face of the obstacles and struggles we face daily requires deep faith … faith in the teachings of the Buddha.
When most of us read a Buddhist text or listen to a good dharma talk, we respond by saying, “Of course, that makes perfect sense. I can relate that so well to what I’ve experienced.” In general, our intellect is on board rather quickly with our following the Buddhist path.
But our ego, our habit energy, reacts quite differently and it must be successfully countered if we are to make progress on the path. When the core of my ego screamed at me, “I want!” as I worked to be grateful for the wonderful things in my life or accept my life as it is now or let go of my cravings, it was only my deep faith in the teachings of the Buddha that provided me with the strength to say to my ego, “no, I do not need that” and let it subside.
That faith has two main components. The first is faith that the path provided by the Buddha dharma will end our suffering … provided that we have the strength to follow it. That sounds like it should be simple. That is, after all, why we are Buddhists. Yes, there are many other features of Buddhism that make it attractive to us, but it is the desire to end our suffering that keeps us persevering.
And yet having deep faith in our chosen path is not simple. That is because at this stage of our practice we are still primarily creatures of the ego, of feelings, of perceptions; our true Buddha nature, our unborn mind is virtually a stranger to us. And the sum of our learned experience in the form of our ego will throw every thing it can at us to subvert us from the path. Only by staying focused on my faith in the teachings was I able to withstand this sometimes seemingly relentless pressure.
The other main component is faith in our own true Buddha nature. While this concept doesn’t exactly fly in the face of reason, it doesn’t easily respond to the intellect. There are many rationale that compromise our belief in our true Buddha nature. For example, if we were born with our true Buddha nature and it’s still there, why has it allowed us to suffer so? Why doesn’t it show itself more clearly, even when we are searching for it? We often find this hard to grasp.
For those brought up in the Christian faith, another problem is the concept of original sin … the exact opposite of the Buddhist belief. If you had the concept of being born a sinner drummed into your head in church during your formative years, it’s understandable that the concept of being born perfect would be a challenging, albeit a welcomed, one.
Finally, because for most of us our true Buddha nature has been buried under the many layers of learned experience that form our ego, the fact that it is not visible to us, that we can’t touch it somehow, is an obstacle to our belief. We have to take it as a matter of faith, until we are sufficiently aware that we begin to see glimpses of our true Buddha nature revealed to us. We see it in the things we do consistent with the Five Precepts that are done with a pure heart, with equanimity. And we see it when we begin observing without the intervention of thought and become aware of the discrepancy between what our ego is whispering in our ear about something and what our true Buddha nature is telling us.
But at bottom, if we believe in the teachings of the Buddha, then we believe that each of us is born with our true Buddha nature intact and that it remains a part of us forever … the one thing that is not impermanent and changeable. Armed by our faith, there will be a counterforce within us whenever our ego tries to get us to give up the path or question it.