Andy Karr reflects on why we need to approach the Buddha’s teachings with open minds in the opening editorial of our March 2018 issue.
Since you are reading Lion’s Roar, you probably know the Buddha’s four noble truths: the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of liberation from suffering, and the truth of the path that causes liberation. These are the foundational teachings of all Buddhist traditions.
Yet I hope you don’t get too attached to one formula for expressing these truths. That would make it hard to study them and reflect on their meaning. We need to approach the Buddha’s teachings with open minds, so we can connect them with our personal experience and make these living truths, not just dry recitations that obscure the truth beyond the words.
We sometimes hear about “sudden enlightenment,” but my hunch is that even sudden enlightenment comes at the end of a long journey. For most of us the path to realization is gradual. We read one thing and a glimmer of insight shines. We hear something else and there’s another flash of understanding. One day while we meditate, a teaching that we heard long ago suddenly opens a door. While each of these insights seems to fade soon after it dawns, collectively they reinforce each other, like water pooling underground. Gradually, we develop confidence in another way of seeing.
Take the four noble truths. It is sometimes taught that we need to go through sixteen distinct insights before we fully realize them—four insights for each of the truths. It is not that the truths are complex. They couldn’t be simpler. It’s our misunderstandings and misperceptions that are complex.
Delusion has so many methods for perpetuating itself. There are at least a dozen ways we mistake our psychosomatic experiences to be a self. We use five primary emotions and countless variations to intensify and solidify our basic sense of duality. We have innumerable conceptions, feelings, and discursive thoughts that we use to distract ourselves from naked reality.
In the end, we will be liberated by seeing things the way they truly are, not the way they appear to our confused, samsara mind. Because delusion is so complicated, we need a great variety of methods to overcome it. As one of my teachers said, “Prajna—knowledge/wisdom—does not have just one job to do. It has many jobs.”
Traditionally, it is said that learning the dharma is an ever-deepening process of developing prajna. Study of these profound themes will sharpen your prajna—your insight and wisdom. Contemplation of these teachings will further sharpen it. Bringing the understanding that comes from study and contemplation into meditation will truly deepen it.
In this issue of Lion’s Roar, you’ll find a variety of perspectives on some of the key themes of the Buddhist teachings: the four noble truths, taking refuge in the three jewels, the operations of karma, the practice of the paramitas (transcendent virtues), meditation, emptiness, and even enlightenment itself.
You can develop your own prajna by studying, contemplating, and meditating on these teachings about Buddhism’s most important principles. For it is prajna—together with the compassion that comes from seeing beings tirelessly pursue the causes of suffering and reject the causes of liberation—that will propel you along the path to realization.
After sixteen years, I am retiring from my position as the finance director at Lion’s Roar. In the time I’ve been here, we’ve produced ninety-seven issues of Lion’s Roar magazine and its predecessor, the Shambhala Sun, sixty-one issues of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, and too many posts on lionsroar.com to count.
That’s a lot of fodder for your study, contemplation, and meditation. I have every confidence that, despite the challenges media nonprofits face in the internet age, Lion’s Roar will continue to provide this support for dharma practitioners long into the future.
May it be so!