Full Circle Dharma

When the Buddha laid out what he had realized in his Enlightenment, it was a complete guide to finding peace and joy.  The Eightfold Path is often divided into three categories, called Wisdom, Ethics and Practice, which cover the full circle of our days.  We are told what it’s all about: how to avoid being dissatisfied with life.  We’re given guidelines on not harming ourselves and others.   Finally, there’s guidance for developing mindfulness and concentration, and how to use these to cultivate good mental habits. 

We gain Wisdom by learning the many teachings of Buddhism, which have been handed down through the millennia.  The first step on the path, called Wise Understanding, clarifies why we often feel at odds with life, and how to end our unhappiness.  The other half of the Wisdom category is holding the Wise Intention not to harm any being, which includes ourselves. 

Beginning the day with this understanding and intention guides our responses to whatever confronts us.  An angry person is more easily recognized as someone who is suffering, and we’re less inclined to take their harsh behavior personally.  That lets us deal with them more calmly and skillfully, to avoid escalating their suffering – or making it ours.   

We’re also given help making choices in the many gray areas of life, including the way we communicate, take physical action, and engage in economic matters.  These are the Ethics part of the path: Wise Speech, Wise Action and Wise Livelihood.  Rather than a set of “thou shalts,” they’re the kind of suggestions a wizard might make to someone leaving on a perilous journey:  watch out for these hazardous areas, keep moving toward the brightest star.

It may seem odd that Practice is the last category of the path.  The Eightfold Path isn’t strictly linear, but it does help to understand the fundamentals that underlie our practice as we cultivate it.  Some Concentration is needed to establish and maintain Mindfulness in formal meditation, and in daily life when we can use it to avoid harming ourselves and others.  Deep concentration brings us greater wisdom through direct experience of the nature and possible end of suffering.

I like to quote something Sharda Rogell says when people ask how to fit practice into their lives.  She answers that instead, she fits life into her practice.  I have found that doing it her way is surprisingly effortless.  The Dharma gives us all the tools we need to engage wholeheartedly with life while reducing our suffering and all other beings’.  It can hold our entire lives in a full circle of greater peace and joy.



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