The basics of course are meditation, including the elements of posture, breathing, concentrating on a spot 4-6 feet in front of you, the Five Precepts, and the Four Noble Truths. Next come the Eightfold Path and the Six Paramitas.
But beyond these basic teachings which encompass virtually all of what one needs to understand to walk the path, there are many teachings of the Buddha as well as other teachers which have enabled me to go deeper, understand more clearly, and even to see truths from within myself. To name just as few: two Vietnamese Zen monks in rural Michigan transferred to me the teaching that I later expanded upon and refer to as the Fourfold Path to Freedom. And which I have been further expanding upon ever since.
There is the teaching I found in The Life of the Buddha where the Buddha tells his disciples that if something causes suffering, “it is not you, it is not yours, it is not yourself, for yourself would not cause you suffering.” That statement was powerful in my efforts to free myself from the five skandhas.
Then there’s the statement in the same book where the Buddha tells Ananda that he “should make of yourself an island; yourself and no other your refuge.” Again, a very powerful teaching that helped me realize I could only look to myself to experience peace and happiness. I had to find from inside myself the truths that would set me free.
Then there was the teaching of Zen Master Bankei, as related in The Unborn, which very simply states that we each are born with the unborn Buddha mind intact, fully formed, inside us. That what happens during life is that our learned experience defiles our unborn Buddha mind, turning it into a “fighting spirit,” and so we turn to our emotions to protect us and our thoughts. From this teaching came my realization that Buddha mind and ego-mind are all part of one mind, just opposite ends of the spectrum.
Most recently, I saw a book in a used bookstore called, If the Buddha Dated. A friend bought the book and found there a teaching about opening the heart to embrace all aspects of our being. He related that teaching to me and advised me to try it as he saw that I had been trying unsuccessfully to get rid of certain habit-energies, aspects of me that went beyond emotions.
This teaching didn’t sound all that different from the Shambhala teaching of acknowledging and having compassion for your emotions, which had never done much for me, but I meditated on this new teaching because I trusted my friend. And as related in my post, The Heart’s Embrace, it has profoundly changed my frame of mind and enabled me to see from within that indeed I have everything I need within myself to be at peace and happy. Another example of how saying the same thing using different words can profoundly change the impact.
I also realized that this … opening my heart to embrace all aspects of my being … is what is really meant by “turning my will and my life over to the care of my true Buddha nature” or “surrendering my ego to my true Buddha nature,” the fourth step of the Fourfold Path to Freedom. It took many years to stumble upon this truth which has allowed me to go deeper and more fully liberate me.
Also recently, my friend and I have been reading Personality: The Art of Being and Becoming by the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan. Although not a Buddhist text, everything in that teaching is one with the teachings of the Buddha, just said using different words and concepts. It is a wonderful, clear, insightful book that speaks very directly to one and has brought me more in touch with my heart. This book was also found in a used book store.
And again, recently, while attending a Kadampa temple in the neighborhood which I don’t regularly attend, I heard a powerful teaching from the resident monk who said that anything that pushes our buttons is a direct expression of someone’s or society’s suffering. How can you get upset with someone because they are suffering? All one can do is have compassion and wish that the person’s or society’s suffering ends and that they find happiness and peace. Again, this had a major practical impact on me as I went about my day and related to the things and people I saw.
My point here is that our work in following the path is never-ending. We constantly grow and go deeper, even as we need to continue to practice the basics. And the source of our growth comes from a myriad of sources … teachers, books. friends … many the result of a happenstance. My friend would say that this is an example of the universe bringing things to me that I need,
I am constantly aware and grateful for all the people who have made a difference in my practice and thus in my life.