Life is a series of choices. It is so at every scale of our living, each moment, day, month, year, decade, and more.
One choice we make would inevitably lead us to the specific consequence and another choice. If we face the situation for making a decision, it didn’t occur if we didn’t choose what brought us to the moment.
Who we are now is the result of our past choices. Who we were, what, how, and why we did, even who was with us. In Buddhism, people call it karma. Everything affects everything else
We know the importance of such karmic causations in one way or another. We see this lesson intuitively; sometimes, we learn them painfully from the failures we made or the sufferings we face.
That is why Buddha teaches us to observe the following three things about at the moment of our lives, mindfully:
- Action: What we do
- Speech: What we speak
- Mind: What we think
The Noble Eightfold Path is well-known as the elaborated version of these three. As I always enumerate in my other blog entities, these are:
- Right View
- Right Intention
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
Everything affects everything else. That’s why observing every area of our action, speech, and mind is crucial. That’s understandable. We can get the point.
The problem, however, is we are not strong and confident enough to keep them for what we call a good life.
On the one hand, we know that following them leads us to a good life. We also sense that keeping them seems not that easy as we initially imagined on the other. Sometimes, we are unsure if the choice we make could be good or bad at the moment, especially under the category of moral and ethical dilemmas and the like.
We face the issue of free will.
Who controls us when we make a choice? Is it “we” or something, someone else like our circumstances? If we make a decision, then who are such “we” on earth? If not “we,” then what or who else could be such things on our behalf? Or, is it the combination of them? Either way, we are still unsure who we are or what and who else could be.
Even a set of moral and ethical rules like the Noble Eightfold Path brings us to this kind of dilemma.
If we didn’t follow these practices, would we suffer and feel a sense of guilt and failure? And, should we blame ourselves or fate? If we follow them, would we have a good life? And, should we praise ourselves or destiny that guided us so?
What is a good life?
Is it the result of following these practices? Like we could be successful in the material world through our hardworking, should we achieve a good life in the same manner? Like our worldly success could result from the combination of our efforts and circumstances, a good life should be such conditional? Is it what we are supposed to aim for in this manner?
While Buddha taught us to be mindful of what we act, speak, and think with a set of practices like the Noble Eightfold Path, we must also be aware of the more profound and higher perspective before and above them, which are the Four Noble Truths:
- The truth about sufferings of life
- The truth about the cause of sufferings
- The truth about the cessation of the cause
- The truth about the path for emancipation
Let me rephrase them in the current context as follows:
- Life looks like a series of sufferings
- We see life so
- We can be selfless.
- The selfless path for a good life
Life is a series of choices at every moment, day, month, year, and decade. And every time, making our choice, we face the consequence. At this very moment, we wonder who or what caused this choice. We ask ourselves if the life we made is good or bad from our limited perspectives, which often get distorted by our attachments’ filter.
We often think that the fourth truth (like the Noble Eightfold Path) is the means to attain the third truth. That is to say, to forget ourselves to be selfless for the state of non-self (anattā), we have to practice the Noble Eightfold Path.
This order from the fourth truth to the third, however, should be misleading. In the same manner, we often mistakenly suffer from karmic causations. We unnecessarily praise or blame ourselves or circumstances for the result of the choices in life.
The fourth truth should be after the third, not vice versa. Practicing the Noble Eightfold Path should be after our selfish ego’s cessation, not the other way around. We can’t practice the Noble Eightfold Path to cease our selfish ego. The path should be already selfless at the moment when we practice it.
In the fourth truth, therefore, we have to practice the path selflessly. We have to embrace the karmic causations selflessly. Unless and until we become selfless due to our selfish ego’s cessation, we can never proceed to the fourth truth. The fourth (the path) should be after the third (non-self), as the order clearly states.
Let’s go back to the initial statement.
Life is a series of choices. It is so at every scale of our living, each moment, day, month, year, decade, and more. And, whether they are good or bad, we suffer from the choices made, and consequences faced
With good ones, we praise ourselves or circumstances; with bad ones, we blame them. Either way, we suffer from them. And we try our best to follow a set of practices believing that doing so can lead us to the good life that our selfish ego defines.
What is a good life?
A good life is neither good choices nor good consequences. These are the only things that our selfish, false ego defines. We compare our lives with others, saying ours is better or worse than theirs, and so on. And we suffer from such unnecessary comparisons.
If there is “a good life,” the truth is that only the eye of non-self (anattā) can see it.
After all, the choices are elusive as we don’t know who made them, as mentioned above. The consequences are also elusive as we can’t escape from the regret of what-if questions with other possible choices and the dilemmas of karmic causations. Thus, the eye of selfishness can never find a good life.
In the eye of non-self (anattā), life keeps itself from a series of choices, consequences, and karmic causations.
Life is life as it is.
Such selflessness or non-self (anattā) can embrace everything and everyone without discrimination. Life is in the state of non-boundary. Only then, “we” are ready to proceed to the fourth truth to practice the path to emancipation selflessly. Only then, “we” are ready neither to be proud nor to be regretful about “our” practices over a series of choices, consequences, and karmic causations.
At this very moment, we can also see life is emptiness (śūnyatā) in embracing everything as if the light manifests its true color at the totality of all waves and particles.
Reflecting on life, we recall all good and bad things. Sometimes, we were happy and enjoyable; sometimes, we were sad, even painful. Are we regretful or contented? Are you resentful or thankful?
These are all kaleidoscopic colors of a good life as it is. We embrace them, even love them. In the state of non-self (anattā) we can love ourselves, others, even enemies, and God, as God loves us all so. Thus, Jesus said:
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.Mark 12:30-31
Image by Luisella Planeta Leoni