“Buddhism regards all living creatures as being endowed with the Buddha nature and the potential to become Buddhas. That is why Buddhism teaches us to refrain from killing and to liberate creatures instead.”
~ Hsuan Hua.

My spiritual journey began with secular Zen-Buddhism (agnostic Zen-Buddhism) and I have been an ardent disciple of Buddhist teachings since I was introduced to them. Before I dive into my short discourse on why Buddhism is so timely for the present-day challenges, I’d like to explain my personal motivation for following it.

Originally, Buddhism was not a religion. It was a philosophy. This philosophy was shared with the world in the form of insights of a man called Buddha who spent years in meditation fired by an ambition to understand the nature of a human soul. Returning repeatedly to the inner abyss, he was slowly extracting wisdom to enlighten those who sleep. Years after he passed, people recognized him as a deity, they started to build temples and statues, and send their prayers to Buddha in front of them. In this discussion as well as in real life, I am not interested in Buddhism in its current form. The only thing that ignites my interest is the practicality of Buddha’s teachings.

Zen Buddhism resonates with me because it is structured around the practice of meditation and prioritizes self-discipline, self-control, and service to others. The prefix “secular” separates Zen-Buddhism from other forms of Buddhism due to the fact that all ideas about supernatural or paranormal hold zero interest for its adherents. As a general rule, the circle of their interest extends to humanist values and pragmatism, which are exactly the things that interest us since we are looking for ways to apply spiritual knowledge in real life on a day to day basis.

A true seeker wears no labels and that is exactly what Zen-Buddhism not only allows but directs to do as a school of thought. Zen philosophy fixates your attention on the importance of self-observation. Scrutinizing the very essence of your spiritual nature inevitably brings to the discovery of who you truly are: a boundless consciousness pure of illusory constructions of the mind.

Buddha says that everyone can become a Buddha. Although for someone living within the matrix facing the day-to-day reality it is next to impossible to reach Buddha’s levels of inner peace and unconditional love, it is everyone’s mission to keep driving oneself to excellence in the field of the spirit work. Zen approach to life does not only make you less prone to external stress but it also becomes an indispensable tool for the generation of meaning.

The Insights of Inner Buddha.

“Inner Buddha” is the term I use for that inner voice in the back of my mind that talks sense into me. By any means, by calling that inner voice “Buddha” I do not imply that I am host to some enlightened spiritual presence of any sort. For me, it is simply a thought experiment. I ask myself: “What would real Buddha say?” and I listen closely.

What follows next is a collection of what I found to be the most lifechanging quotes of Gautama Buddha. Let’s look at them.

The major Buddha’s revelation was formulated in the form of the Four Noble Truths:

“The suffering is inevitable.
There is a cause to it.
The suffering can be ended.
The end of suffering lies in the 8-fold path.”

The struggle is an inherent element of life. It will occur to you regardless of whether you want it or not. Accept the fact that suffering is inescapable, get over it, and take initiative on the actions to minimize it. Take charge of your deep understanding of how the world operates. Walk the 8-fold path to deracinate your ignorance. Bear in mind that the greater is the resistance to learning, the tougher are the lessons the Universe sends.

“If there is an intent, there will be an insight.”

Sometimes you find yourself in situations in which your fate is at stake and the outcome is hard to predict. It feels as if an invisible guillotine was hung up above your head hungry for decapitation. Staying an unflinching immovable observer going through a kaleidoscope of ever-changing scenes is one of the most practical zen-skills. Mastering it allows you to stay actionless yet not inactive. It teaches you how to be at peace with uncertainty.

We all know how easy it is for our mind to label a hardship as a problem. In the days of a life crisis, it feels like the world goes to pieces but to our surprise, most “catastrophes” get resolved and eventually everything falls into places. It is only when we resurface on the other end of the situation, we are able to look back and understand why whatever happened to us was meant to have happened. We reassess the way we perceive that experience. We call it “a lesson”.

Buddha says that if our resolve to find the solution for the “problem” is strong enough and if the intentions of the mind are in harmony with the will of the spirit, the invisible gears of the Universe will start to move to materialize the desired scenario. We must be willing to endure the test of patience and wait calmly for an insight looking for signs. Nothing good comes of forcing things, everything comes at the right moment.

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

The transformation that a body undergoes with the help of exercise remains to be one of the best examples of how thoughts find materialization in a physical reality. The change in appearance is tangible and easily observable. Throughout the years dedicated to training, one is able to fully explore his capacity to dictate the shape and the properties of the physical body through acts of will. Driven by a purpose of bringing the form of the physical shell closer to the image held in mind, we may see first-hand what manifestation is and how powerful it can be, once it is put in execution.

What you think of most of the time becomes the focal point in your mind. Your energy flows into it amplifying what’s calling your attention. Every second of our life we face a choice where to place focus. We must internalize that it is at the edge of our attention where all the creation of self occurs. One who refuses to put the effort in concentration letting attention fall where it may is going through life in a happy-go-lucky fashion. It is improvident and certainly comes at a price. The absence of choice is also a choice.

“No one saves us. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

It was one of those leg days when I picked up yet another masochistic challenge: frog leaps around a soccer field in a 16 kg vest. It took me almost one hour to complete the workout. Halfway through the lap and the voice of Inner Bitch in my head was loud and clear. She was telling me to give up; every leap came along with some serious pain.

I was looking at the last 50-meter stretch in front of me when the idea that was buzzing in my mind all the way suddenly took shape:

No one will walk my path for me.

No matter how much it hurts, no one can finish what I have started but me. No one will magically appear to deal with my problems. No one will work through my bullshit instead of me. I’ve got to do it myself.

Certain paths can’t be shared. They are to walk on your own. That is the way of life. It sounds like a simple idea but a deep understanding of it can never come in the form of words. It can only arise in the form of experiential knowledge.

This sickly yearning for the help that might be waiting just around the corner that is present in all of us to a greater or lesser degree, can drag you into hesitation. Do not rely on what may come from without, seek the means to make it work within.

“The root of suffering is attachment.”

The attachment to the self-imposed ideas of how the things should give rise to the internal resistance: we object to the objective, we fight the very beingness of things and that is not just futile, it is foolish. The friction created by such opposition brings a tragic and unnecessary struggle.

We get attached to things, we get attached to people, we get attached to ideas and concepts about our own identity and about the outer world. Witnessing this the Inner Buddha speaks to me:

“In a caravan of superseding illusions remember: nothing belongs to you here and nothing will. Let life pass through you without fixating on its attributes. Do not get attached to shiny bling-blings. Enjoy the comfort that material possessions give but don’t let them define you.

Do not get attached to people as you will never grasp the way they truly see you. Be loving and caring but never overestimate your own need in those relationships. People can hurt you but so can the expectations.

Do not get attached to the ideas of who you are and what you are. The discovery of your true nature will reveal to you that no association, no affiliation, and no idea about self is true. And it never was.”

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future. Concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

It is rarely the case that something truly bad is happening to us right at the present moment. 99% of the negative emotions we experience are either rooted in bitter memories of the past or placed in disturbing concerns about the future. It is a straightforward conclusion that peace of mind can only be found in the present moment. The Inner Buddha advises: “Return to the place where the breathing takes place.”

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

Most of the time it is not the external event that throws us out of balance, it is the way we agitate ourselves. Due to the nature of our mind, we cannot completely eliminate negative emotions from our life, the only thing we can do is choose to suppress them and create our own way to flip the adversity. Once we disinvolve ourselves from the circumstances we find unbearable the seeming necessity to struggle as well as the struggle itself disappear. We become able to see the way out.

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

If you have a story worth telling, share it. Bestow your knowledge on others. What you learned the hard way, may keep someone from making the same mistakes. Be a sun. Fight the darkness. Make your contribution to the planetary awakening.

If you have a skill, teach it. Teaching is the noblest profession. An ability to effectively transfer knowledge from one head to another is the highest level of mastery of that knowledge. This world needs more instructors, more educators, more mentors.

If you know how to bring joy and laughter, never hesitate. People who can make others laugh are the best people. Have you seen the widespread images of Hotei, the Laughing Buddha? He laughs and it is unsurprising — he realized what a joke the games of the mind are. I bet all Buddhas had a great sense of humor.

“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

It’s hard to love yourself when you have never experienced that feeling before. Quite often, the lack of self-love results from an inability to see that love is an imminent consequence of commitment — we fall in love with what we constantly invest in. The investments of time and effort start to make a shift in self-perception once they accumulate to a certain critical mass and that by definition can never be achieved overnight.

Loving yourself comes from hard work. You have to have your skin in the game. You have to believe that even though you are indeed a never-ending work in progress, one day the level of your development will rise high enough to grant you that eagerly coveted sense of satisfaction.

Self-love is not an end result of some long logical ratiocinations. You do not arrive at it following a stern algorithm of reasoning. It just happens. Yet it is an eventuality you must be prepared for because self-love is not some gift from above. Self-love is what you deserve.

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

I will finish this section with an ancient zen parable. Once Buddha and his students were passing through a village. The villagers who lived there heard about Buddha, and they disapproved that he was spreading his teachings in their village where they had their own local beliefs. They faced Buddha and his students on the streets snarling insults at them. Buddha remained silent and calm.

Seeing that Buddha stays indifferent to their negativity totally disarmed the villagers: “We are shouting at you! We are swearing at you! Why do you remain so calm?!”

Buddha smiled and replied: “I do not accept what you brought here with you. It remains yours and it is yours to have…”, he paused, “…and now my students will f##k you up.”

That last line was a joke. But who knows, maybe that is exactly how it happened? Anyway, you get the point.

Followed the teachings of Buddha I have discovered the legacy of ancient stoics which became the cornerstone of my personal philosophy. As a matter of fact, Buddhism and Stoicism are in their essence very similar, but what’s most important for us is that both philosophies offer practical wisdom. Let’s talk about Stoicism.

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