When we learn these facts, the reaction of many is to push back. Yes, we want to experience peace and contentment, but we don’t want to accept our lives as being the way they are, even for a moment. We don’t want to give up the hopes and dreams that get us through the day. We don’t want to give up that wonderful feeling of elation when it comes, even if it is inevitably followed by frustration.
Well, as the saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You cannot be free of your samsara while allowing the ego to engage in all its fun and games that traditionally have driven you and given your life its sense of purpose. You cannot be free of the pain of frustration while continuing to give in to your cravings.
The experience of a friend of mine who recently experienced great physical pain provides a useful parable. While he was in that pain, his only goal was to heal his injury and be free of pain. All his other goals, his cravings and desires, were set aside. The result was not frustration at not pursuing his desires, but on the contrary peace and contentment as he had rarely felt before. So too, if you are in great pain because of your samsara, your only goal should be to heal yourself spiritually, to free yourself from your mental pain. All desires that interfere with that process must be set aside ... until you are healed.
Which is not to say that your life will be without purpose if you commit yourself to the Buddhist path ... to be a Buddhist is not to be a slug-a-bug ... but your activities and hope and dreams will be skillful because they will come from a place of equanimity, they will not be driven by your ego ... after you are healed.
“How is that?” you may ask. That is a question the answer to which is too complex to cover in a blog posting (see my books, below). But what it requires first and foremost is a commitment on your part to finding peace and happiness, to following the Buddhist path. This can’t just be something you want. Given the psychological and cultural forces arrayed against your achieving this goal, it requires a clear commitment on your part, much the same as someone in a 12-step program needs to be committed to being free of his addiction, and for the same reason, for our cravings and attachments are all ego-addictions. Without such a commitment, you will succumb to the urgings of your ego and you will find no, or at best little, peace and contentment.
Where does one find the strength to make such a commitment? To stand up to the force of our ego and culture? One begins with a deep belief in the teachings of the Buddha. This does not require reading all the sutras. But it does require being aware of and at least accepting the foundation of his teaching ... the impermanence of all things and the illusory nature of all perceptions, that everything we experience is of dependent origination and has no intrinsic existence. And believing that we are all born essentially perfect with our true Buddha nature, and that it remains intact throughout our lives.
Once one finds that belief, then we can proceed with what I call, “creating a platform of serenity,” the take-off point for the deeper exploration of your mind and the truths of Buddhism. Because of what I feel is the essential nature of creating a platform of serenity to making progress on the path of Buddhism, I have included that teaching in the beginning of both, The Self in No Self: Buddhist Heresies and Other Lessons of a Buddhist LIfe, and Making Your Way in Life as a Buddhist: A Practical Guide.
If you seek to walk the Buddhist path, you must realize that the path, finding peace and contentment, is contrary to all your learned experience and the culture we live in. It does not require sequestering oneself from that culture, but it does require finding another way to interact with it and ultimately it does require freeing oneself from your learned experience, from your ego. This typically happens in a slow, incremental fashion. It should not be jarring to your life. Far from it. The more you experience and apply the lessons of the path, the more you will experience peace and contentment.
Remember, there is only one way to experience peace and contentment. It is to be present and experience all things directly, free of the intervention of our ego thinking-mind. Unless we are free of the intervention of our ego mind, there is no end but suffering.