The Buddhist perspective Acharya Modgala Duguid
Short talk given at an Interfaith discussion event at the Nehru centre London 23/09/2016
The Buddha, as the son of a king, led a very protected early life, mostly within the walls of his own privileged community. But he couldn’t fully avoid seeing the painful realities of life and, when he was twenty-nine, he went looking for the cause of the troubles he saw in the world around him. For three years he learned all he could from the greatest teachers of his day, and even exceeded their knowledge, and though he found great teachings and meditations to calm the mind, he did not find the answer to the cause of affliction. For the next three years he led an extreme ascetic lifestyle, and did not find the answer there, so in desperation he went to sit under a pipal tree vowing to stay there until he found the answer.
His night of enlightenment was a night of nightmares. He saw how again and again, over the centuries people went to war, within themselves and their communities and nation against nation. He saw the greed hatred and delusion that led to war and the blindness (avidya) that prevented each person from seeing reality. He saw the processes within each of us that in our desire to avoid suffering, made everything much worse. He sat there under the tree and as dawn broke he knew he must find a way to pass this knowledge on to help individuals and society. He taught working men (and women of course) and kings, he mediated in disputes and prepared his disciples to go into even the most dangerous regions of the world.
The core of his many teachings is “The Four Noble Truths”: Noble meaning nothing to be ashamed of, and Truth meaning, just simply reality. The first, Dukkha, affliction, is not just old age, sickness and death. It is also wanting what we cannot have and having what we do not want. Even worse it is all the things we do to avoid these sufferings, and so suffering builds up. The way of avoidance is the second truth – the way we hide in trying to get things, build identities and in in our addictions and mental illness bow out of the realities of life. He expanded this basic teaching many times offering different ways to help us understand how we can stop our dangerous behaviours and lead a better life.
My background is psychology. Twenty five years ago I was studying for a psychology degree and working in a centre for people with alcohol problems. My work sent me on courses to learn about Buddhist psychology. To me this is one of the biggest gifts of Buddhism to society. I found that The Buddha’s teaching presents an amazing, all-encompassing psychology, more complete and deeper than the various strands of western psychology. As well as the psychological understanding of human beings, Buddhism also offered many useful, practical, techniques. Above all it was, on one hand very earthy and grounded, on the other it encompassed the spiritual realm of life.
For forty five years the Buddha taught in many places, to very diverse people about the ways we can understand and break our habit patterns and take a very different path in life. This is the fourth noble truth. However, the third noble truth is key, practices are offered to help us stop and look at our own patterns and look at the patterns in society so that we can find ways to stop our destructive habits and learn new ones and in turn help society.
I have taught about Buddhist psychology or used my understanding of it, in several different countries and in each one as people came to understand this teaching, they could see the usefulness to themselves and the communities they lived i. In Zambia people were avoiding the realities of HIV and AIDS. In Bosnia people were searching for deeper healing after the effects of war, and in India young people from the poorest classes needed to gain confidence to make better lives for themselves and their families. Above all, they gained the faith that they could make changes and so improve their lives.
In this country too I have encountered many young people, searching for a way beyond their mental sufferings and their addictions, especially when I ran a chaplaincy tent at music festivals. When I ran a Buddhist centre many people came to retreat/workshops where they could face, and learn to go beyond, issues of anger, loss, fear etc. Many of them worked in community projects and would take these learnings back.
Many Buddhist groups offer teachings and meditations to help people lead better lives. Some groups have particular foci on teaching psychotherapy, assisting people struggling with addictions, helping war veterans and refugees, and raising awareness of environmental issues. In particular there is a Buddhist Healthcare chaplaincy group offerings training, support and endorsement to healthcare chaplains.
Many Buddhists are involved in local interfaith activities contributing to the well-being of their communities often where problems of youth disenfranchisement and hate crimes are rife. I was part of a local interfaith team in Islington and our work possibly helped us be less affected by the riots in 2011 which started in our next door borough.
Finally I wish to voice a word of caution, religion and religious techniques, though wonderful, can be misused. For example, mindfulness, a useful distillation of some Buddhist teachings, is now mainstream; but, sadly, it has often lost its connection with Buddhism and the complex understanding, teachings and practices Buddhism encompasses. I see it sometimes being used as a tool of money makers and war mongers. The religious faith and understanding that can nourish and support us and our communities is very important. Please let us not turn our religious knowledge and practices into tools that can be suborned by organisations that do not at heart have true care for the well-being of all.
Let us cherish all that our faiths offer for the well-being of our communities.
Namo Amida Bu