Live Through This

This Too Shall Pass

Buddhism Lite for Lazy Neurotics

I didn’t spend my precious 40 minutes a day reading the scriptures. Instead, I read websites and forums to see if I could glean any answers there. For easy-to-digest beginner information, I was a big fan of Beliefnet and the About.com page on Buddhism. I read BuddhaNet and FreeSangha to read the gems that other people got from actually reading the scriptures.

And I did find some answers. I mean, I didn’t reach nirvana (eternal peace), but even the lazy person’s “Buddhism” can yield some nuggets of wisdom. In case you don’t have time to even Google this stuff, here are some key things that I learned:

Buddhism has Four Noble Truths. These are:

1. There is suffering.
2. Suffering is caused by attachment/desire.
3. There is a cessation to suffering.
4. The path to cessation is the eightfold path.

Basically, everyone suffers, and the reason for that is that we’re too attached to things, people, outcomes, ideas. I got sad when my friend group splintered because I was attached to my friends. I don’t like change because I’m attached to my routines.

But the third rule says that there’s a solution, a way to end suffering: “The path to cessation is the eightfold path.” Yay! This must be the key to happiness, right? Right. Sort of.

The eightfold path is complicated if you want to really understand it—there are thousands of pages of scripture trying to explain it! As a 40-minute-a-day internet “Buddhist,” I just learned the CliffsNotes. But the way I understand the eightfold path, it’s kind of like Christianity’s Ten Commandments in that it asks you to act in certain ways (e.g., don’t lie, hurt people, or take a job that will hurt people) and to think in certain ways (understand the Four Noble Truths, practice Buddhism, avoid negativity, be mindful, meditate).

Even if I’m not dedicated enough to follow this path to the fullest, it’s good advice. “Don’t hurt people” is generally a good practice, and when I really start to get down on myself, it’s great to be able to remind myself to follow “right thought” and drop the negativity.

While I was learning these things, one concept that really jumped out at me was idea of impermanence. This is one of the things you’re supposed to learn to understand the Four Noble Truths so you can let go of attachment, which will help you end your own suffering. It’s basically like that saying “this too shall pass”: Usually you hear it when you’re going through a rough time—you’re upset over a breakup or a difficult class or an illness, and your grandmother sends you some cheesy card telling you to cheer up, this will pass. And that’s a good thought. The bad things will pass.

But here’s the catch: So will the good things. This is why you’re supposed to let go of your attachments. Because your pain over your breakup will pass, but so will that exciting new-love feeling when you start a new relationship. I was attached to my routine, my day-to-day existence of friends, classes, and family, but that comfortable existence was going to pass, and my not accepting that was responsible for a large portion of my anxiety.

If I wanted to become comfortable with change, I had to learn to live in the moment (this is called mindfulness, and it’s another important aspect of Buddhism). I had to accept that life was good right now, but that it was not permanent. When you learn to accept ahead of time that an end will come, the end is less painful.

One totally ridiculous thing that sealed this concept for me was the History Channel special Life After People. I’m a huge environmentalist, and every time I see a new shopping center open up in a previously green space, a little piece of me dies. But this show, which speculates on what would happen if every human on Earth disappeared at once, was strangely optimistic. As they went forward in time, trees sprouted up in the middle of buildings, roads crumbled and disappeared, and eventually, far into the future, it looked like we’d never been here. This process is already going on in abandoned places like Pripyat, outside of Chernobyl, and Detroit.

Some people would find this depressing. I find it liberating. No matter how much we build and destroyed, it’s all temporary. The world will continue changing, with or without us.

After my quickie Buddhism Lite for Lazy Neurotics course of study, I looked at my life, and suddenly my problems seemed very small. Whatever is happening to me, whatever I am attached to, it’s a blip in the universe. I am a blip in the universe. All that’s important is focusing on where I am right now, because dwelling on my past is just a cause for pointless suffering, and speculating about the future makes me miss moments as I’m living them.

My Buddhism obsession was pretty short-lived. I’m not interested in reaching nirvana in this lifetime—I just want to live a happy and fulfilling life. But my research helped me so much, and continues to. After I read about the great Buddhist debate on whether the “right conduct” proscription meant Buddhists shouldn’t eat animals, I moved on to spending my 40-minutes researching vegetarianism, and that’s one obsession that actually stuck (seven years meat-free!).

I still cling to routine. But these days I’m better at rolling with change. When my college roommate/best friend left to spend her last semester on an out-of-state internship, while I mourned the end of our life together, I also found myself kind of excited about the new experience of living alone. It turns out it’s kind of lonely. But this too shall pass. ♦

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13 Comments

  • soviet_kitsch December 30th, 2013 7:22 PM

    not three days ago was i looking up buddhist temples in my city. i’ve been horribly stressed out for a while now and think giving meditation a shot would probably be a good idea, and at the very least give my brain something new to focus on. very sweet article <3

  • Skatapus December 30th, 2013 7:44 PM

    Interesting, and definitely a solid article. Wondering it maybe it would have been more interesting to have had an article written by an actual Buddhist though, who can speak as someone trying to actually practice the Buddhist lifestyle all the time. This kind of seemed to focus on Buddhism as a kind of fad, to pick and choose from.

    • krystalavender December 30th, 2013 9:44 PM

      An article done by a true Buddhist would’ve certainly been great. Either way, I’m all for anyone in this generation looking to Buddhism for character improvement and happiness.

      Slightly off topic but one important Buddhist ideal left out of this article that would probably make many kids our age a bit happier is humbleness, balance and being okay with not being “special” or “unique.” Letting go of desires that lead to lofty delusions of self grandeur.

  • spudzine December 30th, 2013 8:18 PM

    My anxiety feels a lot like what is mentioned above. Small changes can set me off to, worst case, a panic attack, and it SUCKS. But I keep on going, hoping that better things are to come.

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • sparklingbutterfly December 30th, 2013 8:57 PM

    The whole time I was thinking, i hope this chick is seeing a therapist lol. i feel like there must be underlying factors for this extreme reaction to even the smallest of changes. I think it should be suggested that if you are going through such serious anxiety to try to seek a professional counselor along with exploring philosophies like buddhism. Because as someone who is involved in all of the above, I have to say it is truly life-changing. Especially yoga/meditating for anxiety, one yoga class can turn your whole life perspective upside-down!

    • Rachael December 30th, 2013 9:26 PM

      I’m on medication now. :) I’ve written about anxiety and mental health in the past, but for this article I just wanted to tell people how cool Buddhist teachings can be. Meditation and mindfulness are good for anyone, although some of us do need to supplement them with more modern therapies. Good call!

  • zephyr December 30th, 2013 11:18 PM

    I am amazed by Rookie everyday. I have found so many kindred souls!
    Feeling warm…

  • Sarah December 31st, 2013 12:00 AM

    A few months ago, my dad talked to me about Buddhism and how much he would love to become a monk in Tibet or Nepal when he retires… I thought he was just being goofy until I began reading into it. I used to be a firm believer of the law of attraction (that everything you exhale to the universe, positive or negative, bounces back to you), but I love the idea of Buddhism and Buddha’s teachings so much that I’m quite torn between the two. Just like Rachael said, the Buddhists don’t believe in owning or being attached to anything. How amazing would it be to live in the ideal world where everyone only cares about making others happy? Unfortunately though that’s a bit hard to achieve in this turning-to-shit modern reality.. So I guess what I’m trying to say is, if like me you’re interested in Buddhist values, maybe for living in the 21st century, try look into the law of attraction and live on that for now. Hihi. Think positive, and you will become what your mind is. :)

  • pendulous-threads December 31st, 2013 2:14 AM

    THANK YOU for this article! I’m happy that Rookie has a chance to open up the basics of buddhism (BOB) to a wider audience. I took a asian philosophy course this semester and the Buddhist lectures definitely stuck with me the most.
    Cheers.

  • jenaimarley December 31st, 2013 5:24 AM

    So stoked to see this article on Rookie! Buddhist philosophy has played a very important role in my personal spiritual practice. Meditating just 10 minutes a day has done wonders for my life!

    One of my favorite Buddhist concepts is that of emptiness: the idea that we project own own meaning onto the world through our experience.

    http://www.theknowledgebase.com/products/understanding-emptiness-the-key-for-transforming-your-world-2013-arizona-geshe-michael-roach

    I totally found the Life After People program surprisingly positive as well! As a fellow environmentalist, it might be an unconventional view, but I feel like our efforts to save the earth are really just in our best (self) interest! If we destroy ourselves, the earth will continue on as if humanity was just an ephemeral speck of dust on her epic timeline. That being said, I’d like to make our experience on earth the best it can be for as long as possible, so of course let’s continue to work on protecting our beautiful planet!

  • lode December 31st, 2013 8:13 AM

    Really nice article. Internet is really great to share and learn about new ideas. Buddhism is about understanding your own mind. This is also a spiritual path. I read books about Buddhism was a teenager and then when to Nepal when I was 21. I’m now in my thirties and trying to put the teachings into practice. Looking back I did not understand much about the Buddha’s teaching by reading. But meeting with people who have been practicing it since many years and could explain it to me in clear and practical ways was transformative. This totally changed my life and gave it purpose. I would suggest trying to find a centre close to your place (no need to travel to Nepal!) and try to go to some meditation and teaching. Books are great but they can’t communicate the living experience, the heart experience. You’ll get that when you meet with teachers and practitioners.

    Here the Tibetan Buddhism school I met in Nepal, they have centres all over the word : http://www.fpmt.org

    Peace in everybody’s heart!

  • Savidi January 1st, 2014 1:39 PM

    This is a fantastic article! I’m a Buddhist and i practice Theravada Buddhism. Buddhism is great because it doesn’t force you to do anything and it teaches you to live in peace and harmony with yourself and the earth. Even more than a religion, it’s basically a philosophy. “Nothing is permanent,” one of the Buddha’s most famous sayings. The bad things will pass, and so will the good. We will die, just the same as a flower. I think it’s great and i’ve been trying to meditate for 10 minutes a day to help with my anxiety. It really helps.

  • teen-Escapist January 3rd, 2014 2:12 PM

    This is truly amazing! I suffer from anxiety and depression and have started practicing meditation and yoga to cope. It’s been amazing so far, I truly hope I can continue on this journey. I’m glad you’ve found a similar one.