Buddhism: more than self-improvement
People get into Buddhism for all kinds of reasons.
Some want to learn how to have a calmer, happier life. Others are attracted to the Buddhist emphasis on kindness and compassion. Others still want to have more meaningful relationships.
Buddhism offers an amazing set of tools to improve your life. But these tools are just the beginning.
Turning your world upside-down
At the heart of Buddhism is a vision of the nature of reality. And like the red pill in the Matrix, if you dare to try it out, it will turn your world upside-down.
We usually think that we’re seeing things clearly. When we get up in the morning, we see the familiar sights of our bedroom. We have breakfast, start work, meet friends.
Of course, we sometimes get confused, we get overwhelmed, we make mistakes. But we’re right about the basic facts of our life. Right?
Buddhism teaches that the reality of all things is radically different. That in every waking moment, we’re making mistaken assumptions about the nature of reality.
Breaking out of the game
Imagine you’re playing an online multiplayer computer game.
You’re playing as a character, wandering around a landscape. You interact with other characters online, eat, drink, go searching for monsters to kill. It’s very realistic and compelling.
In fact, it’s so realistic that the players begin to forget that it’s just a game. You, and other people playing, start beliving that the character you’re playing is real and solid. You all start believing if you die or get injured, it is the end of everything!
The game stops being so much fun. Everyone starts wandering round, carefully hoarding food and money, trying to avoid any possible danger. It’s stressful!
Buddhism teaches that our lives are like this.
What we take to be real and solid has actually been fabricated, made up. Together, we’re all playing a game, but we don’t realise we could just press the exit button. We don’t know how to break out of the game.
Buddhism teaches us that breaking out of the game is possible. But we need to know how - we need tools.
The key is learning to notice the one thing that keeps us addicted to the game of life: craving. The Buddha realised that if we learn to reduce our tendency to want to hold onto things so tightly, we can start to take the whole game less seriously.
It’s a bit like someone (your mum?) has come in and opened the curtains. Light starts to come in. Eventually, you notice that there is a world outside, beyond the walls of your bedroom. You start to see that you’ve been caught up in a game, that you’ve lost perspective, and that there’s more to life.
When this starts to really work, it’s like we’ve stepped out of a cramped, dark room into a huge, expansive landscape. We see life in all its beauty and mystery, which is nothing short of life changing.
And we would never go back to playing that old game.