Life is Choices

The choices we make determine the course of our life. This simple, seemingly obvious, statement is a basis of Buddhist teachings. Siddhartha Gautama, a prince with all worldly comforts, chose to leave behind wealth and family. After six years of various intense forms of spiritual practice he attained enlightenment while meditating under a pippal tree. His choice allowed him to become a Buddha, an Awakened One.

Every day, we face a wide variety of choices. The first choice is whether we get out of bed. Most people would argue that this is not a choice. We must get up so that we can go to school, work or whatever task we have that day. However, are not these actions also choices? We are free to do whatever we wish. In numerous discussions, people have brought up the usual list of things we must do. We must support our families. We must pay our taxes. We must obey the law. I reply, “The only thing you must do is die one day. Everything else is a choice.” A clear understanding of the consequences of our actions should be the foundation of our decision. This understanding is the goal of a Buddhist practice.

Desires drive human life. Too often, we mistake these desires for our actual needs. The early followers of the Buddha gave up all worldly possessions except for two robes and a bowl. One robe for the winter, one robe for the summer, and a bowl to ask for alms. Anything more than this was desire, not necessity. Of course, not everyone can be a monk. However, we all can free ourselves from our self centered attachments. How can we overcome this false sense of need that leads to greed, lust and anger?

Shortly after his awakening, Gautama Buddha presented the Eightfold Path. Included are Right Understanding, Right Thoughts, Right Conduct, Right Speech, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right meditation. This is not right as opposed to wrong. It is right in an absolute sense. These are eight attributes of an enlightened being. From a Buddhist perspective, there is no hell greater than our human existence. We find ourselves trapped in a cycle of suffering caused by our ego driven ignorance. The Eightfold Path is not commandments telling you what you must do. Rather, it presents a framework by which we can judge our actions.

Our primary consideration should be whether our actions cause suffering. Violence of any kind, harsh words, lies, slander, prejudice all lead to suffering. Buddhism celebrates our free will. Although the law of Karma states that all that exists now is a result of what has gone before, what we do next is never predetermined. Our actions can have two results. Either they will perpetuate suffering, or they will help to end suffering. Aware of the universal Oneness, we make our choices. Our life is choices.

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