Sunday, February 28, 2010

How To Act Right, Making The Most of Every Moment

Make Every Moment Count

Impermanence is one of the cornerstones of Buddhism. Yet it is often confused and distorted by these two wrong views of its meaning:

Wrong View One: Insight tells us to embrace our experiences without clinging to them — to get the most out of what’s happening in the present moment by fully appreciating its intensity, knowing that we will soon have to let them go to embrace whatever comes next. This offers us false wisdom on how to consume the pleasures of the moment.

Wrong View Two: Insight into change gives us hope. No matter what the situation, anything is possible: we can do whatever we want to do, get whatever we want even if we don’t have it yet, create whatever world we want to live in, and become whatever we want to be. This offers us false wisdom on the results of our actions.

The questions that arises from these false views are

1) If experiences are impermanence and fleeting, how could they be worth the effort needed to engage them?

And 2), how can we find genuine hope in the prospect of positive change if we can't fully rest in the results when they arrive? Aren't we just setting ourselves up for disappointment?

The real wisdom of impermanence is that the effort which goes into making us more peaceful and happy is worthwhile only if the produces well-being and happiness that is largely resistant to change, largely stabilizing.

If all our experiences of the present are something fabricated or produced, moment-to-moment, from the raw material provided by our past actions, from our seeds, then in our desire to consume pleasure, we are producing and consuming pain, dukkha.

So what do we do with our stressful experiences? Buddhism suggests that we learn to use them to get beyond them. Buddhism suggests that our obligation in response to every moment, to every new experience, is to learn to use it in a way that furthers our spiritual growth. Types of actions that do this are labeled “the path.”

These activities include acts of wisdom, acts of virtue, and the practice of meditation. They include generosity, compassion and lovingkindness, patience, humility, moral disciple, right speech, dependability, and regret (When we act in a way that is seemingly appropriately but the outcome is not beneficial, then we use regret, very gently, to remind us to try another tactic next time.)

These activities produce a sense well-being and peace relatively stable and secure, relatively helpful. For this reason, they lead us further along the path, rather than obstructing our progress. So they are skills that need to be mastered. They are the basic set of tools we have making everyday decision-making. In any situation, our intention should be to choose one of them as the basis for our next action.

With that attitude, we make use of impermanence and the process of change to move us freedom, well-being, peace and happiness. And that's what Buddhist practice is all about.