Feature photo by H. Koppdelaney
I became a Buddhist at twelve; the news was devastating to my parents. To top it off I became a vegetarian. Cue the tragic “DIOS MIO!” In my home, and in many Mexican homes, to be Catholic/Christian is not a choice. You’re simply born into the religion and to ask questions about other spiritualities is a personal attack on your family’s decency, pride and culture. Ten years later I’m still a Buddhist and a vegetarian. How many other Buddhist Latinos have I met since then? One. Because of this, I’m frequently met with confused faces when I reveal I’m a Buddhist. Buddha’s that fat smiling guy with all the necklaces, right? So here goes a very brief, and I mean brief, glimpse into Buddhism.
There are many Buddhas. A Buddha is an enlightened being, someone who is awake and in seeing the suffering of the world, actively engages in ending it. In Mahayana Buddhism we’re taught that all conscious beings have Buddha-Nature. Meaning everyone, absolutely everyone has the potential to become a Buddha if they dedicate themselves.
The first thing I learned in Buddhism is that before you can understand the heart of others you must first understand your own. This means sitting down with yourself and taking a good look in the mirror, then digging deeper, through the reflection into the skin and underneath. If you analyze why you’re angry, hurt, or sad and allow yourself to truly feel those emotions then:
1. You’ll be able to understand why someone else is angry. They’re angry because they’re hurt; they’re hurt because I said/did something to hurt them. I said/did something to hurt them because I’m feeling insecure, etc.
2. Once you start to really understand number 1, you’re less likely to piss someone off, hurt their feelings and make them sad, which is the development of compassion and one of the biggest teachings of Mahayana Buddhism.
The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, once said, “See yourself in others, then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do? He who seeks happiness by hurting those who seek happiness will never find happiness. For your brother is like you. He wants to be happy. Never harm him and when you leave this life you too will find happiness.” Apart from this, the Buddha developed the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path, which are guidelines to living a happier, more compassionate and fulfilled life:
- Suffering exists.
- Attachment is suffering.
- Through practice we can end suffering.
- The Noble Eight Fold Path is the path to end suffering.
What most people struggle with is the idea of releasing attachment. Ok, attachment is suffering, but it’s impossible to release attachment so suffering is never going to end! Sogyal Rinpoche, author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, describes it like this: Imagine you’re holding a quarter in your fist, and your fist is facing the floor. You’re making a fist because if you let go of the quarter, it’ll fall. The fist represents attachment; the quarter is the person/thing we want to hold onto. Attachment breeds possession and insecurity. If you turn your hand over so that your palm is facing the sky you can release the fist without loosing the coin. This is releasing attachment.