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Living Skillfully with the Four Agreements

It's New Age woo woo. Is it "skillful"?

Charlie Martin


January 5, 2014 - 4:00 pm
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Because it’s the beginning of a new year, and because I’ve been slack for several weeks on the Buddhism column, and because after all Gautama himself said that he was teaching basically just one simple thing that he found himself just explaining in many different ways, and because finally it’s my column and I can do what I want, I’m going to start this time by repeating again the core of the Buddha’s teaching, suitably rephrased so as to seem creative and original and avoid copyright problems with the people I’m stealing it from. So here they are, the Four Noble Truths, with only as much Sanskrit as necessary.

  1. Our ordinary lives are full of duhkha, badly translated as “suffering” and better translated as unpleasantness, agitation, discomfort. (The root word is actually connected to the idea of a cart wheel that’s got a bad axle: it isn’t rolling smoothly and the bump bump bump is making us cart-sick.)
  2. Dukhka arises because of our efforts to re-order the universe to our liking. We thirst for pleasant experiences; we try to make things be just how we’d like them to be; and we try to un-make things that aren’t the way we want them to be. All of these things come down to a kind of ignorance of the way that we and everything around us can’t be made to hold still; everything changes.
  3. This special discomfort ceases when we stop trying to force things.
  4. We can learn to stop trying to force things by practicing what the Buddha called “skillful means”, upaya.

Which is all well and good, but how?

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All Comments   (5)
All Comments   (5)
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The Four Agreements are a brilliantly simple path to personal peace.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I would find it impossible to resist the crack that you up and went and bought out the dimestore...

...Except this actually fairly good advice, as far as it goes, and for the brief glance you can give us. And as you say, it's not actually Buddhism.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's not, and yet I do think it's essentially kusala, skillful. Its a way of getting at the desire to make things be the way you want them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Charlie, what's the answer to the claim that "the desire to make things be the way you want them" is the driving force behind all human progress? In other words, the belief that Buddhism makes you passive? "So much injustice in the world. Are we to just accept it as 'the way things are' and try to meditate ourselves beyond caring?"

I don't know of any Buddhist (lay person, at least) who fits this profile. And of course, there are any number of activist Buddhists running around. Yet the accusation of passivity continues to come up - even among Buddhists.

Just wondering what you think.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think it's the difference between desire and obsession, or something close to that. Elon Musk clearly wants to make spaceflight cheap and supersonic trains a reality. He can want it and work toward it; if he lies awake at night because he can't take a hyperloop train tomorrow morning, that's duhkha.

Actually, Wildmind had a nice piece today on the difference between
"feelings" and "thoughts":

Maybe the difference is between feeling the desire to do something, and thinking about feeling the desire.

Hm. "I'm hungry." Simple feelings. "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!" Thinking, and suffering.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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