The main teachings of the Buddha are summarized and centered in the Four Noble Truths:
- The cause of suffering
- The end of suffering
- The eightfold path to end suffering
It is no secret that the world is full of confusion, hatred, madness, and suffering. This suffering arises because people are trying to manipulate or change the external world to suit their viewpoint and satisfy their desires; they are caught up in greed, hatred, and delusion.
One Buddhist approach advises a person to first change one’s inner world, to change and purify one’s mind; then the external world will gradually come along and be more peaceful. When people purify their own mind and learn to live peacefully and harmoniously within their surroundings, then they will be able to live at peace with the whole world. This is just a brief and basic overview of the Buddha’s teachings.
Mindfulness and meditation play the most important roles in bringing about this inner mental transformation. The inner transformation brings about the outer transformation.
In Buddhist teachings taking care of the body is not often addressed. But the truth is that the mind operates through the body. The mind is not separate form the body and the body is not separate from the mind. They are intimately connected, especially for the day-to-day activity of ordinary persons. If the body is sick and weak, if it has tired blood and/or poor energy, this will affect our life.
Because of poor shallow breathing and stiffness and inflexibility in the body, our psychic energy, the nervous system energy, is not able to flow freely throughout the body. Thus, the body and mind remain lethargic and dull, or will be easily excitable and restless. Our perceptions and thinking ability won’t be very orderly and clear. Practice emphasizes and enhances having a healthy nervous system and body, having good posture and blood circulation. The posture is important in meditation to keep the spine straight.
Most people have difficulty in meditation because they are not able to keep their back straight. This is because we sit in chairs most of the time; when we travel in the car, sit at the computer, watch television or sit at the dining table, people are usually slouching or hunched over. So the trunk muscles are not very strong and it is difficult to keep the back straight. It becomes a constant battle to your back and head erect in order to have a clear and relatively painless meditation. Despite keeping the back straight, however, there will still be a certain amount of physical discomfort and pain involved in meditation.
Learning how to skillfully deal with physical pain and mental pain is a large part of meditation.
There is a saying: “Pain is a fact of life, suffering is optional.” When people are born into this world pain is “a given;” they’re going to experience pain. But the struggles against pain and the mental anguish that arises is optional. When you have pain and then add mental suffering onto it, then you get “double trouble.” There is also a mathematic formula you can remember: “suffering = pain × resistance.” The Buddha’s teaching and meditation practice is not about removing pain. However, it is about the lessening and eventual eradication of the causes of suffering.