Buddhism is essentially a way of knowledge that leads to liberation from suffering.

The awakening in which it culminates is both a wisdom based on an accurate understanding of reality and a freedom from the disturbing emotions and obscurations caused by ignorance.

The practice of Buddhism does not require us to give up what is good in our life, but to abandon the causes of suffering, to which we are often attached to the point of addiction.

So studying the Buddhist teachings does not mean overloading the mind with a lot of information. We just need to master the specific knowledge that will enable us to get free from samsara, the cycle of lives conditioned by ignorance and pain.

The Buddhist path is structured so that it takes into account the gradual nature of inner transformation. Each step leads naturally to the next. It is like building a house: you cannot put the roof on without having laid the foundation, raised the walls, and installed the timbers. Certain factors will help this transformation.

The most important is to realize that one already possesses the potential for transformation, what Buddhism calls “buddha-nature,” or literally “the embryo of buddhahood.”

Then comes the inspiration aroused by meeting an authentic spiritual master, followed by an enthusiastic determination to cultivate altruism, compassion, and the other essential qualities that the master exemplifies, and finally, the perseverance that is indispensable to achieve any real change.

The reflections, meditations, and spiritual exercises that we use along the way make use of the body, speech, and mind, but ultimately it is the mind that we must transform to put an end to our own suffering and that of all beings.

That is why the Buddha said,

  • Without doing any harmful act,
  • Abundantly perform beneficial acts.
  • Completely tame your mind.
  • That is the Buddha’s teaching.

Where can we start?

To truly set out in a meaningful way on the road to transformation, we have to first take a close look at ourselves.

“What am I doing with my life?

What have been my priorities until now?

What can I do with the time I have left to live?”

Of course these thoughts only make sense if we feel that change is both desirable and possible. “Can I say that nothing needs to be improved in my life and the world around me? Is that change possible?” It is up to us to decide.

The next question is in what direction we want to change. “If I try to climb the social ladder, to become rich or have more pleasure, am I really sure that these things, if I can achieve them, will bring real fulfillment?”

At this crossroads, where we are asking what our goals should really be, we need to be honest with ourselves and not satisfied with superficial answers.

The answer that Buddhism provides is that our human life is extremely precious; the disillusionment that comes over us at times does not mean that life is not worth living.

However, we have not yet clearly identified what it is that makes it meaningful. “The question is not whether life has a meaning, but how each of us can give it one,” says the Dalai Lama.

Our extremely precious existence is even more so when we enjoy all our physical and mental faculties, have the freedom to choose what we do, and use those conditions to release the potential for transformation that is within us. Time is running out. Accidents, sickness, and, inevitably, death can occur without warning. Hence there is an emphasis on diligence.

First come four topics for contemplation that transform our worldview and turn our mind toward spiritual practice.

The first of these reflections concerns the extraordinary potential of human existence.

The second invites us to observe the transient nature of everything in general and life in particular, so as to encourage us to make the best use of the limited time available.

The third is the law of the cause and effect of actions. If we want to end suffering and achieve enlightenment, as with any other goal, we need to go about it in the right way. There are things to be done and others to be avoided because each of our actions inevitably affects both ourselves and the outside world. This reflection helps us to understand the consequences of our behavior and the conclusions we can draw from that understanding.

The fourth contemplation concerns the defects of samsara, which means conditioned existence characterized by ignorance and suffering.

These four topics of contemplation help us to distinguish between the actions, words, and thoughts that need to be cultivated and those that will bring us unhappiness or simply waste our time

Source: Ricard, Matthieu. On the Path to Enlightenment: Heart Advice from the Great Tibetan Masters. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2013.