Category Archives: The Four Noble Truths

The Winding Road from Christianity to Buddhism

I’ve been thinking about my journey into Buddhism more often in recent days, reflecting on the path and how far I’ve come.

Throughout my life, I’ve had an interesting relationship with religion. I grew up with Christianity and attended church often as a child, but always felt out of place.

It’s never been like me to call on a higher power. The closest I ever came was in the fifth grade when I shouted up at the sky angrily, “If you are real, now would be a GREAT TIME to do something!” I wanted to believe but it all felt like a fairy tale to me. For many years I was very conflicted over this, but as I grew up the feelings faded.

Always walking to the beat of a different drum, although not intentionally, in middle school I discovered Wicca (a form of modern paganism). Finally, something self-empowering!

I stuck to a regular Wiccan practice for several years, until my late teens. There were so many things I loved about Wicca, the rituals, the connection with nature, the routine. The mantra, “If it harm none, do what ye will,” freed me from the guilt I had for being a non-believer in my previous church. I loved my new religion, it helped me to make sense of the world, gave me clarity.

My mother, on the other hand, was concerned for my mortal soul. She called me a “devil worshiper” and told me she “didn’t want me to go to hell.”  My mother went to church several times a week and dragged me along, moaning and groaning all the way.

Through the years I’ve been called many things but rebellious and difficult are probably the two I hear the most. “You HAVE to be a rebel don’t you?” “Why are you SO rebellious?” “Can’t you just do it like everyone else?” “Why do you have to be difficult?”

People accused me of becoming a Pagan just to tick off my mom. “Here is Christa being difficult again!” I was never trying to be difficult, all I wanted was to be myself.

In my early twenties, I studied all religions from a very high level. The similarities and parallels between all religions, things people seek and learn, were becoming more obvious to me.

For a while, I had no religion, but took up yoga and then meditation. These things created temporary pauses to the suffering didn’t know I had. I wanted to hang in the stillness, that perfect feeling when a yoga sequence becomes so effortless that all my worries and troubles stopped. I was addicted to the feeling and wanted to do yoga everywhere I went.

Many people don’t realize yoga is more than just body postures and sequences. Even fewer people dig into the history of yoga, but when I love something I have a deep need to know everything about it.

I became particularly fixated on chakra balancing and was convinced my Throat Chakra, the one in charge of communication, was off balance. I even went so far as to wear the color blue, a color I generally dislike, around my throat.

My exposure to yoga and yoga culture brought me into contact with Buddhism and its practical mind shaping wisdom. Buddhism acknowledged that life is full of near constant suffering. This was something I could relate to. I was suffering from something I could not name. Buddhism also promised a way to end ones suffering, so I was on board.

Buddhism is a very practical religion full of lists. I love it! There is no sin, the rules are clear, and you are encouraged to take responsibility for your own actions – every single thing you say or do. There is no threat of heaven or hell in the end, and because the historical Buddha was not a god, the only person you have to answer to is yourself.

The first step was to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, a list of things I needed to work on to reach mental freedom on earth. Right Speech seemed to give me the most trouble so I focused extra attention in this area, sometimes writing reminders in pen on my arms & hands.

Years later, I no longer need the reminders. Finally, I’ve got everything memorized and know how I should be acting. I’m practicing, getting better every day.

Nobody’s perfect. I am a work in progress. Each day is an opportunity to start over when we make mistakes. Every minute a chance to learn something new. It’s great to look back at the long and winding road, seeing how far I’ve come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impermanence – Eternally Existing and Dissolving

Everything comes into being and then dissolves.

Whenever you encounter suffering in your life you don’t have to worry because nothing lasts forever. This suffering is not permanent. Facing your fears becomes easier because you begin to realize that fear too is temporary.

Every pain and discomfort become much less of an obstacle because you realize your time of suffering is limited.

You learn to be grateful for the little things because you look at them as if they are already over. Like a shiny new teacup that is already broken. Each joy in life, no matter how small, is a blessing.

When we waste our time longing for tomorrow we miss the beauty that could have been found in today.

Life’s fleeting moments, the little pleasures, a sunrise, a friendly dog begging for a belly rub, colorful fall leaves, and the smell of fresh spring flowers, become more valuable.

Anicca or impermanence is understood in Buddhism as the first of three marks of existence, the other two being dukkha (suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness) and anatta (non-self, non-soul, no essence).[4][3][6] – found on Wikipedia

Buddhism acknowledges that life is full of suffering it confronts it as just another part of life.

The Four Noble Truths, one of Buddhism’s many lists, talks about suffering, and it causes (craving, thirst, & desire). Our constant seeking for something outside ourselves can never bring us joy. Suffering is inevitable but the pain is optional.

Luckily there is another list, The Eightfold Path, filled with detailed instructions on how to be free from life’s miseries. Like an eight-step program for getting your life on track.

The Eightfold Path is the fourth Truth of the Four Noble Truths. Very basically, the truths explain the nature of our dissatisfaction with life. The Buddha taught that we must thoroughly understand the causes of our unhappiness in order to resolve it.

– More about The Eightfold Path on About Religion

By following The Eightfold Path we learn how to end our suffering, by stopping the eternal cycle of clinging and craving.

When I first started studying Buddhism I tackled The Eightfold Path like a checklist, marking off each step one by one. I’m not perfect and there are still days when I make mistakes but now I have memorized this list (I found a neat cheat sheet here on BuddhaWeb.org).

These teachings have changed my life and in many ways, I am still changing. My person is transient like a river constantly washed clean by new wisdom and experiences – breathing in impermanence.