The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Barefoot Living

Buddhism for dummies

Buddhism, in a nutshell, is the search for enlightenment, in which “enlightenment” refers to the deepest understanding of the nature of personal existence. To achieve this understanding, practitioners of the dharma (or the path toward spiritual realization) spend a great deal of their time deepening the level of their awareness through relaxation meditation, or quieting the mind.

Imagine living in a world in which an obnoxious parrot sits on your shoulder all day screeching repetitive nonsense into your ear. While this constant noise would certainly make it more difficult for you to listen to conversations, you’ve had the parrot for years, and don’t even notice the squawking anymore.

Then, one faithful day, a friend of yours finally gets up the nerve to smack that parrot off your shoulder. All of a sudden you can hear with crystal clarity, and not just direct conversations, either; you can hear the shuffling of shoes down the hallway and the sound of every keystroke from your computer. Free from the deafening racket of the parrot, you are able to enjoy a greater sense of present-mindedness. Music sounds fuller, food tastes better and the world seems more alive because you may devote more conscious attention and joy to experiencing everyday activities.

Relaxation meditation, or the art of bringing stillness to one’s mind, aims for a state of effortless focus wherein one freely chooses to ignore all distracting thoughts and remain actively engaged in observing the present moment. Far from sleeping, properly executed meditation brings with it the highest degrees of awareness, and an ineffable lucidity.

Everyone dreams when they sleep, but few people can recognize the false nature of these dreams while acting them out. Only after waking from these illusions, thereby breaking into a higher plane of awareness, can we dismiss dreams as immaterial and unimportant. Many a morning, I’ve woken up embarrassed from some ridiculous happening in a dream, only to brush it off lightly as soon as I remember that it didn’t actually happen. Similar to waking from a dream, enlightenment comes through achieving a higher state of awareness wherein the silly dramas of everyday life melt away with the certainty of their transient, illusory nature.

Just a handful of the amazing insights to be picked up along the road toward enlightenment, to be realized through prolonged sessions of relaxation meditation, include: a clear distinction between the body and the self, a clear distinction between thoughts and the self, the relationship between self-cherishing and suffering, the graceful power of selfless love, the meaning of empathy and an unending gratitude for absolutely everything.

But beyond strengthening one’s active awareness, meditation in the Buddhist tradition cultivates wisdom. Learning wisdom requires high degrees of observation and self-reflection, and while relaxation meditation aims at comfortable stillness, the mind inevitably wanders. So, the duel effect of intended strict observation and inevitable self-reflection afforded by these long periods of quiet stillness have far-reaching effects, smoothing the texture of one’s soul.

The term “enlightenment” literally describes an illumination increasing one’s ability to see reality as it truly is. An enlightened mind may more easily escape the cyclical effects of karmic suffering because an enlightened mind sees farther down the dark road. In the end, meditation provides us the opportunity to observe the greater patterns in our lives because awareness is first step of any worthwile action.

As you read the words of this article, your perception obeys a set of pre-established and widely agreed upon laws meant to govern their meaning. While I cannot stress the importance of such laws in making words useful for conveying ideas, they are nonetheless perfectly arbitrary. The object that “table” refers to could just as easily have been called a “blatip”. Being so arbitrary, written language cannot have any meaning on its own; it requires a person (you) to fill in the meaning.

So why do I bring this up? No so much to confuse you (although if you’re not at least a little befuddled, you should reread that last paragraph) as to point out the way perception extends meaning throughout reality without our consciously knowing it. As awareness improves so will our perception grow into something more adept at handling the stress and strain of everyday life. Wisdom acts as a cushion between yourself and the harsh blows of reality. And finally enlightenment will allow you to fully transcend the wheel of suffering.

I would encourage you to do two things today. 1) look up Buddhism on Wikipedia, in a book or anywhere else. Learn as much about it as you can. 2) Begin meditating.

To meditate, find a quiet spot to sit comfortably for 30 minutes or more. Relax your shoulders, straighten your spine, bring your hands into your lap or onto your knees, lower and half-close your eyes. Make the conscious decision to view all thoughts as distractions from your goal. Take three deep breaths, feeling the air enter your nostrils, travel down into your lungs and abdomen and into your blood.

Focus on observing the breath. When thoughts arise recognize them and let them go. Always return to the breath. Always return to awareness of the present. Always return to peaceful stillness in the mind.

Do this 30 min a day for two weeks, and you will feel results throughout every facet of your life. Period.

Have a good weekend; try to experience it with the richness it deserves.

About the writer:

Keven O’Toole is a junior philosophy major and can be reached at [email protected].

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