Heart of Buddha: Teachings and Applications Essay
Tom is a family man. He has a wife and multiple children. Therefore he needs money to support them. Tom has workaholic tendencies, which lead to him working long hours, being irritable, and exhausted the majority of his free time. One day, he comes home angry enough to verbally abuse his children and wife, after which Tom goes to a bar. Subsequently, he returns home drunk and goes to bed with the anger of others receiving more money than he while doing less.
Unfortunately, this type of situation is relatively common. However, by looking at it from a Buddhist perspective, Tom’s issues may be mitigated. His case represents some of the most common issues that men of his age experience. This paper will argue that the application of Buddhist concepts such as the Four Noble Truths, The Noble Eightfold Path, The Two Truths, and The Three Dharma Seals to the presented situation can lead to improvement of Tom’s condition through the elimination of alcoholism and a complete reexamination of his life.
The Four Noble Truths
One of the fundamental ideas of Buddhism that could help Tom is the process of stopping, calming, resting, and healing. Tom’s situation indicates that he has no control over his life. Thich Nhat Hanh writes the following on the topic of such situations: “the first function of meditation – shamatha – is to stop” (Hanh 2008). Tom is trapped by the habit energy of being a workaholic and refuses to stop. To begin healing, he first needs to stop working such long hours, become calm by recognizing that his efforts to help his family are, in fact, making him harm them.
Then he should rest, perhaps by taking a vacation or relaxing at home with his family, he would be able to reach a state peaceful enough for his body to transition to the next step of this process. Finally, resting may lead to his eventual healing. Tom is unaware of his suffering, which leads to larger suffering. While recognition would be essential, it would need to be encouraged for Tom to gain a true realization.
Hanh describes the state of realization in the following way, “we can now call our suffering by its specific name and identify all of its characteristics” (Hanh 2008). This quote explains that the awareness of a person’s problems can lead to further healing. For example, a person who is aware that her or his drinking habits are harming her or his family knows that the main way to heal is to stop drinking. After gaining a realization of his suffering, Tom needs to realize his wellbeing and encourage himself to find peace and joy through positive activities such as gardening.
The Noble Eightfold Path
Three practices of the Noble Eightfold Path would be the most beneficial to Tom. The first is the practice of the Right View. Its main idea lies in the need to understand that suffering can be transformed and that what we consume is often the cause of our suffering (Hanh 2008). It relies on the complete understanding of the Four Noble Truths that were discussed in the previous section. The elements of human lives that lead to suffering can be changed, and this idea is core to Tom’s healing process.
He appears to be experiencing an effect of alcohol addiction when he goes to the bar to relax. He consumes alcohol, which only feeds the negative sides of his personality. This situation describes the concept of watering the seeds of human consciousness. There are wholesome and unwholesome seeds that exist inside every human being. By consuming alcohol, Tom is feeding the seed of alcoholism that is destroying his life. To have the Right View, he would need to stop drinking.
The second practice is called Right Thinking, and it describes the idea that thoughts should be reflective of reality. Tom currently sees the world through the prism of wrong thinking that leads him to blame others for his problems. Thinking consists of two parts. The first is the initial thought, and the second is developing thought. The former begins the thinking process, and the second develop it further (Hanh 2008).
The difference between them is that the developing thought allows the person to consider whether the initial thought is correct or if it needs further examination. Through meditative concentration, Tom should be able to have both, and later neither, to attain Right Thinking, which should lead to Right Action. By removing both types of thinking, Tom would be in a state of deeper understanding which should allow him to see the proper course of action.
The third practice is Right Action. Its purpose is to focus on doing actions that are loving and helpful in nature, as well as preventing harm and violence. If Tom realizes that his focus on work is harming his family and prevents him from showing his love for them, he could change his life (Hanh 2008). While verbal abuse is treated differently from physical abuse, both are harmful and violent actions, which Tom should prevent. By working responsibly, avoiding alcohol and other toxic substances, he may improve his life, as well as the life of his family.
The Two Truths and The Three Dharma Seals
In Buddhism, there are is the concept of the Two Truths. It refers to the idea that truth may be relative, but it also may be absolute. Relative truth may be seen differently by different people. In the case of Tom, he sees his need to make money and support his family as suffering, while a man who tried but was never able to create a family would prefer that position. Tom needs to follow the Five Remembrances, which state that nothing is permanent. Therefore, every living thing should be cherished (Hanh 2008). Tom loves his family, but he stopped cherishing their existence.
This idea is intertwined with the Three Dharma Seals of impermanence, suffering, and nonself. Aside from the idea of impermanence, Tom needs to understand the idea of nonself. No person remains herself forever. Even small changes in position and time can change a person’s idea of “self.” Moreover, each person is inherently a part of every other person due to the complete interconnection of objects in the world. Tom has to exist with everyone else because they define him as much as he defines them. By understanding these concepts, Tom may reach the Third Dharma Seal called Nirvana. It is considered to be the substance of existence.
A person in the state of Nirvana silences all existing concepts. All notions become extinct, and the person becomes free to interact with the reality that lies beyond human conceptualization. It is the complete realization of the fact that nothing may appear from nothing and that everything has a previous and future condition (Brodd et al. 2015). These ideas are core to the Buddhist religion, and perhaps this state would help Tom become less stressed about making money and more fascinated by the world around him.
Buddhism is a unique religion that has a very practical set of tools for self-realization and self-help. Tom’s condition shows clear signs of him being unable to control his own life while being unaware of the reasons behind his suffering. In fact, he almost completely denies his condition and goes as far as to blame his children, his wife, and people wealthier than him for his feelings. However, he may be helped through the Buddhist approach to life.
He needs to stop, become calm, rest, and heal. Then he needs to realize that the actions he takes to help his family are actually harmful to them. When he does so, Tom will be able to gain insight into his suffering and prevent it. The ideas of the Right View, Right Thinking, and Right Action should be taught to him to hopefully create a more loving and mindful way of life for Tom. Finally, he needs to begin cherishing his family because they are impermanent and are a part of him. While he may be aware of their impermanence, his mind does not fully understand this concept or perhaps obscures it through wrong thought processes. By realizing the interconnected nature of the world, and the transformational process that matter goes through, he may achieve Nirvana and find a new way to happiness.
Brodd, Jeffrey, Layne Little, Brad Nystrom, Robert Platzner, Richard Shek, and Erin Stiles. 2015. Invitation to Asian Religions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. 2008. The Heart Of Buddha’s Teaching. New York: Random House.