Buddhism argues that all phenomena are related to other phenomena. They come into and out of being based on conditions we tend to being ‘outside’ of ‘themselves’.
(I put all the quotation marks in because those concepts are only provisionally useful from a Buddhist perspective, but that’s for another post).
This ‘stuff being dependent on other stuff’ is called ‘dependent origination’ or ‘conditioned co-production’.
The idea that nothing is itself is a bit of a weird one to get your head around.
The origination of everything is dependent on the origination of other stuff, which is in turn dependent on the origination of other stuff.
Where does it all begin? God? Let’s not get into that right now.
It’s not just one thing that causes another thing either. Multiple conditions go into causing the temporary arising of any ‘thing’. A ‘thing’ is a complex of inter-related processes.
This all sounds very theoretical. Maybe of interest to philosophy students, but nothing to do with me.
What this means in your life
Actually, when you get your head around it, this has everything to do with you.
What it means is that, if you can identify the conditions that cause you to feel well and happy, and then bring those conditions into your life, you’ll be well and happy.
For me this was quite a revelation.
We all do it, often fairly subconsciously.
Why do you collect football stickers and stick them in a book? Why do you play computer games? Why do you get a mani-pedi?
People spend good money on this stuff! Why?
Because these are conditions that, when present, put them in some kind of positive state.
Why do people try to become millionaires?
What is money if not a condition that people imagine will improve their experience of being alive?
People say ‘Because I want a big house’ or ‘Because I want to know my family’s taken care of’. In the end, all of these things are steps on the way to feeling one thing and not feeling another. And they are the result of feeling a certain way, and having a certain set of beliefs and ideas.
Internal and external conditions
Conditions are both ‘external’ to ‘us’ and ‘internal’.
A car is a condition. So is saying to yourself “I am as free, strong, and filled with love as I decide to be.”
This blog is a condition. You’re being conditioned right now!
Choose your conditions
The trick is to choose your conditions wisely. To do this you need to know how things affect you.
Buddhist practice is really just a bunch of recommended conditions. They’re tried and tested ways of coming to the end of existential suffering.
But it’s not just about following rules in a book. That’s not how it works.
You have to take an honest look at how things affect you personally, and live in accordance with that.
Some people might need to make a whole pile of money in order to feel good. Some people might need to meditate for eight hours a day.
Some people need noise, excitement and loads of people in their lives. Others need simplicity and quiet.
Not only that, but over time, we change. You may start out loving to party hard in Soho and end up loving quiet and solitary life in the country.
You have to stay switched on to yourself. This is one of the benefits of mindfulness practice. It’s also one of the tough things about life.
Trusting the Buddhist way
Taking things a little deeper, we may notice that something that puts us in a ‘good’ state on one level, actually puts us in a bad state at a more fundamental level.
Getting high snorting dried parrot food might not be to your long-term benefit. This means that, in the long run, it’s not a positive condition. No matter how much fun it might be right now.
Buddhist practice has a way of changing what you think is important and unimportant. What you regard as fun and not fun. Some of it might be counter-intuitive.
How can owning less stuff be a good thing? A you guys crazy???
At some point, we start to get some confidence in the Buddhist way (or whatever way is working out for us). When that happens, you might even decide to do some stuff that you can’t yet see having a beneficial effect in your own life.
For example, if you’ve been stealing wallets without getting caught for a number of years, it may not be immediately apparent that not doing that anymore is beneficial for you.
You stop stealing wallets and go and get a boring job. The boss is a pain in the rear. The pay sucks. You can’t hang out watching daytime TV all day.
But you’re giving the Buddhist thing a go, so you do it.
Over time, you find that you feel more self-respect. You have more energy. You can look people in the eye. You start building more positive relationships. You get promoted so your job is more interesting and you don’t have to put up with that boss anymore.
Etc. You get the picture.
This is what is meant by ‘faith’ in Buddhism. It’s not a blind faith. It’s more of a ‘taking on trust for a limited period’ kind of faith. But that’s for another post.