The Way

Diana St. Ruth

In a coda to Sitting: A guide to Buddhist Meditation, Diana St. Ruth describes the fruits of freedom.

Happiness cannot be forced into existence, nor can it be forced out of it, but it can be held in abeyance. This is what we do when we hang on to things and people and ideas in our minds and refuse to let them go. The mind becomes blocked and the way is dammed up.

Being alert, observing the movements of the mind and body in daily life, noticing what is taking place—as opposed to what one wishes would take place, or what one fears might take place, or what one grieves over as having already taken place—is a way of life that is completely free of all self-imposed restrictions and conflicting states of mind. Wisdom and compassion will be allowed to function freely under these circumstances. Views, speech, ways of living, mindfulness, and concentration are unhindered by greed, guilt, hatred, carelessness, complacency, and fear when divisions are seen to be arbitrary and there is no sense of “This is me”; “That is you.”

When the way ahead is open and clear and one has the goodwill, light-heartedness, and courage to tread it, the past and the future melt into nothingness, life is lived from the center of one’s being, and the self becomes as meaningful as the blue sky, the green fields, the flowing rivers, the littered streets, the hustling crowds, the filth and the beauty.

afterword summer 1998When one follows what is right according to one’s heart and good sense, when wisdom and compassion become real, not contrived, the way of heaven manifests beneath one’s feet. That is the way of liberation from suffering and the realization of genuine happiness.

Diana St. Ruth is editor of the British quarterly magazine Buddhism Now. Her books include The Simple Guide to Zen Buddhism and The Simple Guide to Theravada Buddhism.

Excerpted from Sitting: A Guide to Buddhist Meditation, a Tricycle Book by Diana St. Ruth, reprinted with permission from Penguin Putnam, Inc.

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melcher's picture

"Modern" Buddhism, as Haspel would have it, and as presumably represented by the short piece by Diana St. Ruth, is a movement, among other things, away from dogma and toward a way of approaching life as it is experienced in our own time. In an era full of noise and confusion the pure exercise of simplicity expressed in economic and artful language can be the most powerful method for stripping away illusion.

John Haspel's picture

Diana St. Ruth presents a conceptual and theoretical explanation of some of the Buddha’s teachings but perhaps misses the point of the Buddha’s “way.” This being an excerpt of a larger work, a more complete presentation may be in her book A Sitting Guide to Buddhist Meditation.

It seems as if modern Buddhism is moving more into the conceptual and theoretical application of Buddhism. There is great emphasis in acting the role of what Buddhism “should” look like, rather than do the actual work of developing understanding and release through the Eightfold Path.

Meditation alone, or practiced without the context of the Four Noble Truths, is not likely to develop “the way.” A generalized application of mindfulness, very common today, is not likely to develop “the way.” Acting skillfully in thought, word, and deed is one aspect of the Eightfold Path, but without the context of the Four Noble Truths can lead to a strong ego-identification as a “good Buddhist” and distract from actually developing awakening, as the Buddha taught awakening.

The Buddha taught shamatha-vipassana meditation as one factor (of eight) of the Buddha’s “way.” The tendency of clinging mind to become “blocked” and “dammed up” is understood and abandoned through the Eightfold Path. Developing an understanding of dukkha and clinging mind is the stated purpose of the Buddha’s teaching of the Eightfold Path. Included in the Eightfold Path is Right Mindfulness, a direct teaching on the how and why of what to consider and observe, and the context for applying concepts to phenomenal life.

Being alert is certainly useful in the world and one should notice what is taking place as life occurs, but without the proper context it is easy to become enamored with life and the ego-self’s attachments to life. Rather than developing release from clinging, clinging is further established.

In the Upajjhatthana Sutta the Buddha teaches five facts of life that one should be mindful of: aging, sickness, death, the impermanence of all objects, views, and ideas, and responsibility for one’s actions (karma). Emphasis is placed on recognizing the hurtful consequences of intoxication with life. This teaching was presented to teach a refined quality of mindfulness and avoid becoming enamored with impermanent objects, views, and ideas, and further establishing anatta, the ego-self, in the world.

In this sutta the Buddha teaches that refined mindfulness inspires the entire Eightfold Path: “When one is mindful of these facts and reflects often on these facts the entire Eightfold Path is given life. Being mindful of these facts one will maintain the (Eightfold) Path, develop it and cultivate it. All distractions are abandoned and all obsessions are destroyed.”

The Buddha’s “way” is the Eightfold Path. Simply following “what is right according to one’s heart and good sense” will often reinforce clinging to objects, views, and ideas, including views of what Buddhism should look like, and create further disappointment and confusion. The Eightfold Path provides the context and framework for developing understanding and release, and a quality of mind of lasting peace and happiness, in this life.

John Haspel's picture

john, the earth was "flat" in the Buddha's time.'s picture

Thank you for your clear explanation of the "Buddha's Way" as it relates to the Eightfold Path. As a novice to Buddhism I didn't understand how mindfulness relates to the Path in terms of understanding and how the Path is a "framework" for developing understanding. Thanks again for your post.