As far as the various religions and belief systems on this strange little planet go, Buddhism has a lot going for it. Rather than being centered on the worship of a supreme being, it’s a philosophy that’s based around knowing yourself, accepting what is, being present, and being compassionate.
Buddhism can be practiced in tandem with other faiths, as its tenets compliment rather than conflict with most, if not all, belief structures.
Below are a few wonderful Buddhist quotes from great teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, and Buddha himself, that may help to put aspects of your life into perspective and help you achieve a greater sense of calm and happiness.
Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is the only moment. – Thich Nhat Hanh
What’s passed is past, and tomorrow is just a dream. All we ever have is the present moment, but most people squander it by mulling over what has already happened, or by being anxious about what may happen in the future. By doing so, they miss out on the peace and calm that can only be found by focusing entirely on what is happening right now. This is the Buddhist belief, or principle, of mindfulness.
When we’re not wallowing in memories or freaking out about “what-ifs", we dwell entirely in the now; in this moment, this breath, this heartbeat, this experience. Being present doesn’t just mean that we should sit around doing nothing but focusing on our breathing. Rather, we should be mindful about every action we take.
When taking a bite of food, nothing in the world should exist except that bite of food and the act of chewing it, savoring it, swallowing it. When washing dishes, all attention should be placed on washing that plate; wiping it down, rinsing it, drying it off… rather than just whipping through life on autopilot with our minds going in opposite directions to every other part of our body.
Basically, when your thoughts are fully engaged in the present moment, they don’t have the chance to spiral outwards into crazytown. Try it, and see how peaceful and content you can become when all of your energy is focused on now.
There is no fear for one whose mind is not filled with desires. – The Buddha
Desire and aversion are two sides of the same awful coin. There are things (or experiences) that we want, and things (or experiences) that we don’t want, and far too much of our energy is spent fixating on both of them.
Many people want to live long, healthy lives, want to avoid suffering, and are afraid of death. Other anxiety and fear triggers include losing one’s job, getting in a car accident, experiencing horrible awkwardness in public, or even something as simple as losing house keys.
A lot of fear can be alleviated by accepting the fact that shitty things ARE going to happen, and that many (most?) of the things you really want will never come to be.
A quote that goes along with this line of thinking is: “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional". That quote has been attributed to countless people over the years, but it doesn’t really matter who said it – what matters is that it is true on countless levels. All lives will be fraught with some measure of pain, but it’s in leaning away from that pain instead of accepting it with grace that suffering occurs.
This is essentially the Buddhist belief (and first of the Four Noble Truths) known as Dukkha, meaning life is painful and suffering is inevitable when we cling to impermanent states and things.
Here’s an example: You may live in fear about the possibility that you’ll lose your job, but when and if it DOES happen, you’ll get through it. You’ll find other work, maybe go on unemployment benefits temporarily, or possibly end up in your dream career thanks to someone you met at a café while sending out resumes. What purpose did that fear serve? Absolutely nothing. Did life throw curveballs despite all the anxiety? Absolutely. And we’ll all get through the crap anyway, as we’re about to see.
None of us is ever OK, but we all get through everything just fine. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. – Pema Chodron
This might sound a bit defeatist, but it’s actually remarkably freeing. There’s a comfort in accepting the fact that life is a continual ebb and flow between things going smoothly and things going to absolute hell. If you’re sitting and reading this right now, your track record for getting through the icky bits is 100 percent, and that’s pretty damned awesome right there.
Most people go through life with the idea that the only time they’ll be truly happy is when everything is going according to plan, falling into place, and running smoothly. Well, guess what? Life usually has other things in store for us, and it really is quite a rollercoaster ride between massive mountains of crap. There is no such thing as a miraculous state of prolonged existence in which everything is perfect and wonderful. Trying to achieve that goal will just make you miserable, because you’ll pour all your energy into attaining the impossible.
The key really is to focus on this breath and this heartbeat and this fleeting blip in time and realize that whatever shitty thing is happening right now, it’ll pass. Every moment has something beautiful in it to appreciate, and every storm clears eventually.
This is the Buddhist belief of impermanence or anicca, which states that all things are in a constant flux of coming into being and dissolving.
When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending. – Thich Nhat Hanh
This one is great to remember when you’re dealing with someone who is hurting you because they’re lashing out for one reason or another. Normally, when another person hurts us, our natural instinct is to resent them for making us feel awful. The second standard instinct is to retaliate in order to hurt them for making us feel bad. That then triggers their retaliation response, and so the cycle of suffering and cruelty spirals down into oblivion.
When a person hurts you, it’s usually difficult to try to take a step back and view the situation with compassion and empathy. Like a physician who’s trying to determine the illness behind the symptom, try to take a moment and determine why the other person is behaving the way they are. You can usually be certain that their actions stem from something that’s hurting them deeply and causing them to suffer monumentally inside, rather than just because they feel like being cruel or vindictive.
This is the Buddhist belief or idea known as Karuna which translates as compassion and is seen as a desire to alleviate Dukkha, or suffering, in others.
Buddhism can be seen as a bit dour by people who are accustomed to super-positive affirmations and memes full of sparkly unicorns and such, but really, it is a philosophy that encourages honesty, acceptance, and unconditional love – both towards oneself and towards others. There is a startling amount of happiness and freedom that can come with letting go of attachments, desires, and aversions… and we all have the opportunity to start that kind of daily practice with every in-breath.
Try it right now: as you inhale, draw in peace. As you exhale, breathe out expectations, wants, worries. The more you do this, the more joyous and serene life can become… and if you feel yourself faltering, just re-focus on your breath.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.