Month: August 2016

25 – Is Buddhism a Religion?

One of the most common questions I hear when I’m teaching is “Is Buddhism a Religion?” People are typically expecting a simple “yes” or “no” but I’ve found that the answer is a bit more complex than that. In this episode, I will share my view of why I see Buddhism as an applied psychology or a philosophical way of life more than a religion.

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Transcript of the podcast episode

Hello, you are listening to The Secular Buddhism Podcast and this is episode number 25. I am your host, Noah Rasheta and today I’m answering the question, “Is Buddhism a religion?”
Welcome back the The Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is a weekly podcast the focuses on Buddhist concepts, topics, and teachings presented for a secular-minded audience. The Dalai Lama has said, “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a whatever you already are.” Please keep that in mind as you listen to this episode. If you enjoy the podcast, please share it with others, write a review, or give it a rating in iTunes. If you’re in a position to be able to help, I would encourage you to make a one-time donation or become a monthly contributor to the podcast by visiting secularbuddhism.com.

Welcome back to the The Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is a weekly podcast the focuses on Buddhist concepts, topics, and teachings presented for a secular minded audience. The Dalai Lama has said, “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a whatever you already are.” Please keep that in mind as you listen to this episode. If you enjoy the podcast, please share it with others, write a review, or give it a rating in iTunes. If you’re in a position to be able to help, I would encourage you to make a one-time donation or become a monthly contributor to the podcast by visiting secularbuddhism.com.

Now let’s jump into this week’s topic. As many of you may know, I go around and I teach workshops on how to develop more mindfulness or an introduction to Buddhism, or anything along those lines. A question that I get quite regularly about Buddhism is, is Buddhism a religion? Because I’m asked this question so often, I thought I would dedicate a podcast episode to answering this question, at least from my perspective. This can be a tricky question because in western mindset, we typically ask questions and we expect either a true or false question or a yes or no answer or a specific answer that answers the question for everyone. With most things in life, especially pertaining to a spiritual path, or I guess religion in general, I think that’s part of our mistake is that we’re expecting things to be very clear. Black or white, yes or no, right or wrong. We do that even in the question of Buddhism. Is Buddhism a religion? We’re expecting the answer to be either yes or no and then a reason behind that.

Now let’s jump into this week’s topic. As many of you may know, I go around and I teach workshops on how to develop more mindfulness or an introduction to Buddhism, or anything along those lines. A question that I get quite regularly about Buddhism is, is Buddhism a religion? Because I’m asked this question so often, I thought I would dedicate a podcast episode to answering this question, at least from my perspective. This can be a tricky question because in western mindset, we typically ask questions and we expect either a true or false question or a yes or no answer or a specific answer that answers the question for everyone. With most things in life, especially pertaining to a spiritual path, or I guess religion in general, I think that’s part of our mistake is that we’re expecting things to be very clear. Black or white, yes or no, right or wrong. We do that even in the question of Buddhism. Is Buddhism a religion? We’re expecting the answer to be either yes or no and then a reason behind that.

I think it’s very fitting for the answer to this specific question to be the answer is yes and now. It’s yes and it’s no and it’s yes and no and it’s neither yes or no. How’s that for a Buddhist answer to the question, is Buddhism a religion. Here’s my thinking behind this answer for me specifically. Of course it’s a religion. It’s a religion that’s practiced by over 300 million people in the world who consider themselves to be Buddhist and they practice Buddhism as a religion. There are also, I don’t know the numbers, but there are also a lot of people who would say Buddhism is not a religion. I think this is more prevalent in the west, for western mindset. We tend to see it more like a psychology. The definition of psychology is a study of the mind and its functions, particularly those affecting behavior given in a specific context. Buddhism fits in very well, very nicely with the definition of psychology.

Now, the definition of religion, it depends on who’s defining it. There are so many definitions. Every dictionary I’ve checked has a slightly different definition for what religion is. Let’s just look at a couple of these and see how Buddhism would apply. One definition is the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal god or gods. This one could be problematic in Buddhism because Buddhism is a non theistic tradition. There isn’t a deity that’s kind of at the head of everything, controlling it like we would typically think in the west or in the Judeo-Christian mindset. There’s a monotheistic god who is the creator and has power to control everything, an all powerful, all knowing deity.

Buddhism doesn’t have that. There are some schools of Buddhism that incorporate cosmology with … A cosmology that does entail gods and realms and worlds, but these are not part of the doctrine of Buddhism. Buddhism doesn’t really have a doctrine or a set of esoteric facts that you need to believe in. In fact it’s the opposite. It’s kind of saying, let’s study the way that you see and understand the world because when you take a look at the way that you see things, the way that you see things changes, so it’s by studying the mind. Rather than having something to believe in, it’s saying the things that you believe in affect how you see the world. If you’re comparing the two just off of those two definitions, Buddhism is much more of a psychology than it is a religion.

If you look at the definition of religion as a particular system of faith or worship, then you could start to say, well Buddhism could fit in that. If you take Buddhist rituals like meditation or in some schools of Buddhism where they have changing or reciting the mantra, or lighting incense, practices like that, it starts to look more like a system of faith and worship. It starts to look more like a religion. I think part of the problem is that we typically observe Buddhist practices or rituals from a western mindset. You see someone lighting an incense and you’re thinking he or she must be worshiping the Buddha or something along those lines. We associate the ritual practices with what we understand as religious behavior and that kind of make sit seem more like a religion. Again, I think from the eastern mindset it’s very different and it’s hard for us to know the eastern mindset because we’re not eastern. We don’t have an eastern mindset. We grew up with a western mindset that’s much more conditioned on the Judeo-Christian understanding of religion.

Another definition of Buddhism would be a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and the purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies involving devotional and ritual observances and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. You can start to pick out parts of this definition where you might say, “Well Buddhism kind of works there and there are others where it doesn’t.” The purpose of the universe, I think in western thinking, I’ve mentioned this before, but we tend to think if something exists, there must be a reason for it because if there wasn’t a reason, then it shouldn’t exist. In eastern thinking, it doesn’t work that way. There doesn’t need to be a reason for something. With a Buddhist mindset, it’s not about the reason, it’s about the cause. Buddhism teaches that all natural phenomenon have causes and conditions. That means everything that is has a cause for that thing to be.

From the Buddhist mindset, we’re looking for the causes and conditions of things and this applies to everything, whether that be a tree, the tree is there because the seed came from another tree, or internal things like, I’m experiencing anger, well there are causes and conditions for that. You can look and explore and find the causes and conditions for all things. I think this mimics a little bit more of the scientific approach to life where science is always looking for the causes of things and Buddhism does the same in this sense. It can be another one of those topics where it’s like, well in some ways it’s more like a science than it is like a religion, or more of a psychology than it is religion, so it gets kind of tricky.

That’s why, I think the most appropriate answer to that question is yes and no. It is a religion and it’s not a religion depending on who you’re asking and how they practice it. For me specifically, I practice Buddhism as a philosophical way of life and the advantage of this approach is you can fuse it with religious ideas. I know people who practice Buddhism and practice meditation and mindfulness and they are Christian or they have Christian beliefs. Certain aspects of their life, they find meaning through their religious system and then other aspects, their contemplative practice comes from an eastern tradition like Buddhism. It can be a combination as well. I like to think of Buddhism, like I mentioned before, as a philosophical way of life.

Here’s the main reason why, for me, if you ask me personally, I tend to think Buddhism is much less of a religion than it is a psychological practice or a philosophical practice. If you break down the core teachings of what the Buddha taught, you find that it mimics more of a medical diagnosis than it does any kind of a religious or esoteric set of facts. Typically a religion presents an answer to the question, what is the meaning of all of this? Then you are presented with some kind of a story, whether that be the story of the creation, or the story of what happens after you die. There’s some kind of a story that you can believe in and you can choose based on your own observation, whether that be through reading a set of scriptures of that religion or just taking it and analyzing it and deciding this resonates with me. Then it’s up to you to decide to believe it.
Now, you’re belief in that story, it can evolve over time, but for you to be a Christian, you have to believe the story that, first of all, you need to be saved, so you’d have to believe, oh, I’m not saved, then I need to be saved. Then the parts of the story start to make sense. This is why I need someone to come save me from my sins. Then involved with that whole story is if you do that and you are saved from your sins, then when you die you don’t have to go to hell. You get to go to a place called heaven. All of it starts to fit in, but it’s all contingent on your belief in that set of de esoteric facts, the esoteric stories that are presented as facts, and you have to believe those. It gets problematic if you don’t believe some of those things. It can become problematic because the whole system starts to fall apart.

Buddhism, on the other hand, is not presenting a set of facts. It’s, like I mentioned before, it’s more of a medical process where you’re trying to figure out, what is the problem? The problem is this. It’s a solvable problem, here’s what you have to do about it. Then once it’s done and you’re treated, it’s all over. Just like going to a doctor, the doctor’s going to diagnose a problem. He’s going to identify the underlying causes or conditions. The doctor’s going to determine the prognosis, and then issue a prescription and you’re done. Then you leave and presumably you don’t have to come back because you treated the problem. This, to me, is … I don’t want to be down on any religions because I think religion can be a beautiful thing when practiced the right way, but I think, to me that’s the biggest difference here is that Buddhism will come and say, here’s what you need and once you figure that out you’re done. You don’t need Buddhism anymore in your life.

A religion won’t do that. It tends to say the more you believe this, then the more attached you become to it. In fact, your whole hope of what to expect in the future, particularly in the afterlife, hinges on whether or not you believe the story that you’ve been told. Because Buddhism doesn’t have that component to it, it’s anchored in the present moment. It’s not anchored in the reward or punishment that you’re going to experience after this life. I think it makes it, if it is a religion, it’s very different than the Judeo-Christian type religions, or Islam. I think that’s one of the big differences.

Let’s look at that real quick. The Buddhist approach to the problem, the situation at hand, I talked about, if you’re sick, you’re going to go to the doctor and you want the doctor to treat the condition that you have. On the spiritual note, this is kind of what happens with Buddhism, the problem that’s diagnosed is that in life there is suffering. In life difficulties arise. It’s not personal. It’s a universal thing. Everybody experiences it. This is kind of what … Imagine you’re going to see Dr. Buddha, this is essentially what you’re going to be told. You go to the doctor with this problem saying, “I’m not happy. Something’s wrong in life. Life isn’t the way that I want it to be and I’m suffering because of that.” The very first thing the doctor’s going to say is that, “I need to diagnose the problem and the problem is this, in life there is suffering.” That’s the first noble truth in Buddhism.
Now, the second part of the medical prognosis or diagnosis is this, we need to identify the underlying causes. What the Buddha teaches here is that attachment or clinging is the cause of suffering. It’s wanting life to be other than it is, and because I want it to be other than it is, I’m going to experience suffering. That’s the definition of suffering in Buddhism is wanting life to be other than it is. If you look at this in all honesty, anytime you’re experiencing suffering in your life, you’ll find that it can be rooted in wanting it to be other than it is. This is a powerful thing. This goes from the big things to finding out … Losing a loved one, the reason that’s so painful is because you don’t want to lose a loved one. You want them to still be there. All the way down to what could be smaller, more mundane things like, I’m stuck at the red light. Why is that a problem? It’s only a problem because I don’t want to be stuck at the red light.

I always think about this, if you were driving somewhere, you just lost your job and you have an interview for a new job and you’re trying to get there early and on the way there you get a flat tire. That’s a problem. The only reason it’s a problem is because you don’t want the flat tire. You don’t want to risk being late to your interview. Wanting life to be other than it is is that form of suffering. The problem isn’t the flat tire. That really has nothing to do with it because all you have to do is change the circumstances and the event doesn’t matter.

Imagine that you’ve been accused of something you didn’t do and now you’re going to jail for it because they don’t have the evidence to prove your innocence and you’re resisting. You do not want to go to jail and on your way there, the bus gets a flat tire. Now you’re going to think “I hope it takes them forever to fix this flat tire,” because you don’t want to go to jail. The event is the same. A tire went flat and it has to be fixed. Suffering comes from wanting life to be other than it is. Look at that in your own life anytime you’re experiencing suffering and figure out, what is it that I want to be different than it is and you’ll find that’s the root of your suffering.

Then, the doctor needs to determine the prognosis. The prognosis is that, hey, this is a treatable condition. We can treat the cause of suffering. Here’s the catch. We cannot eliminate suffering because remember the diagnosis of the problem or the first noble truth is this, in life there is suffering and it’s universal. The fact that you want to get rid of suffering is only going to create more suffering because now you’re suffering, you want life to be other than it is and the way that it is is that in life there is suffering. What part of this is the treatable condition? That we can treat the cause of suffering, the attachment or the clinging. Remember, identifying the underlying causes, what the Buddha taught is that it’s attachment or clinging that’s causing the suffering. That part is the treatable condition, and we treat that with non-attachment.

The prescription is that there needs to be a change in perspective. This sense of non-attachment comes through obtaining wisdom and we do that … In Buddhism, this is the fourth noble truth, this is the eightfold path. There are eight areas in your life that you focus on, that you’re shifting your perspective and gaining wisdom and that’s helping to eliminate the non-attachment. Just discussing non-attachment by itself, it could be its own podcast with hundreds of episodes on non-attachment. I won’t even attempt to explain non-attachment here, but the key is non-attachment. I think that can be tricky for people to get because one of the misconceptions is, well if I’m going to be non-attached, then that means I’m numb and I don’t have any feelings and I have to be okay with whatever is. That’s not what non-attachment is.

The other thing that’s dangerous about non-attachment is when you decide, okay, I’m done playing this game. I do not want to be attached anymore, then you run the risk of becoming attached to non-attachment. Then you’re back in the same spiral. The definition of suffering is wanting life to be other than it is and you look at it and you say, okay, then I don’t want to experience attachment anymore. I don’t want to have any kind of craving. Now you’re wanting life to be other than it is because in life you’re going to crave things. It gets tricky and that’s essentially the entire situation at hand that Buddhism is trying to get at. It’s the idea that the key is non-attachment and it’s not just that easy. It’s not dropping everything. At the same time it is, it’s letting go. If you want to learn all about that whole process, then you study Buddhism.

That’s what Buddhism will teach you is that entire process summed up in these four things. We’re going to diagnose the problem, in life there is suffering. We’re going to identify the underlying causes. The causes of suffering are attachment and clinging, wanting life to be other than it is. We’re going to determine the prognosis, which is that this is a treatable condition. We can treat the causes of suffering, but we cannot eliminate suffering. The key to that is non-attachment. That’s the prescription. A change in perspective, wisdom, non-attachment, having a flexible attitude to adjust with life as it unfolds, and that’s it. That’s where it starts, so it’s very much like the process of going to visit a doctor.

The key, this is where I think it becomes very different from religion, if you take the prescription and you solve the problem, then you’re done. You don’t need Buddhism anymore and the Buddha taught this in his Parable of the Raft, he asks the monks, if somebody’s trying to cross the river and they build a raft, they spend a considerable amount of time and effort to do that, they get on the raft. Eventually they cross. Now that they’re on this side, is it appropriate for this person to continue the journey with the raft or do they leave it behind? The monks deliberate and they decide it’s wise to leave it behind because you don’t need it anymore. He tells them specifically, this is how you are to view the teachings of the Dharma, so the teachings of Buddhism.

This is why my personal approach to Buddhism is to view it as a set of tools to develop mindfulness to solve the problem. The problem is that in life there is suffering and when you get past it, just as the Buddha taught, it’s something that you leave behind, and you need to because you don’t want to become attached to non-attachment. You don’t want to attach to Buddhism. You don’t want to attach to anything. You can become attached to your religion in a way that it becomes unhealthy. I’m sure everybody knows somebody who you would think probably fits that picture. In that sense and with that information, I personally thing that Buddhism is more of a philosophical way of life. It provides me with a set of tools that determine how I live, how I see the world. Because of that, I don’t view it as a religion because I don’t ascribe to a specific set of rituals or practices or anything that would even look like a religion in the way that I teach and practice Buddhism.

There you have it. That is my answer to the question, is Buddhism a religion. I would say yes it is, and no it’s not, and yes and no it is, and it’s neither yes or no. That, my friends, is Buddhism for you. It’s a very paradoxical approach to the situation at hand, which is that in life there is suffering. You can practice it as a religion. You can adopt this as your religious practice and at the same time, you don’t have to and you can take these as tools and study the nature of the mind and how and why we think the way that we think. This concept of not knowing in Buddhism is very prevalent. It’s in Zen Buddhism, and every form of Buddhism that I’ve explored. At its root is this concept of not knowing. Rather than trying to give you answers to the deep questions of life, like most … This is where it differs from religion because religion is trying to answer the questions. The questions of who am I, why am I here, where do I go when I die? The big existential questions are answered by religions.
Buddhism doesn’t answer those questions. Buddhism isn’t concerned with answering the questions. Buddhism is focused on exploring, why do I feel I need to know these answers? That’s what Buddhism’s trying to get at. What is the root of the motivation behind asking these questions in the first place? If you can get at that, then the answers shouldn’t matter. The answers won’t matter. If I understand myself to know why those questions even matter, it doesn’t become about the answers, it becomes about the questions. Because Buddhism is about the questions and not about the answers, I don’t think it really fits the traditional bill of a religion, especially the religions that are just trying to answer the questions.

That’s a lot, having said that. If you have more questions about this or you want to contribute to the conversation, I hope this doesn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers because the people who will say the answer is yes get mad at the people who say the answer is no. The people who say no get mad at the people who say that it’s yes. Just to throw in the other mix, let’s add in the people who say yes and no, and let’s add in the people who say, “No, it’s not even yes or no,” because let’s just all be in there and talk about this together. If you want to add to the conversation, find the post where I put this on secularbuddhism.com, join in on the conversation, but that is the podcast episode I wanted to go over today. Is Buddhism a religion?

I hope that my answer makes enough sense that you can feel that you can choose the answer that makes the most sense to you, because again, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I think. If you ask me, is Buddhism religion, well that’s just my answer. The only answer that will ever answer is your answer. You get to choose. You get to study this and decide, is it a religion for you, is it not? Is it yes and no? You get to choose. Good luck on your journey finding the answer that makes the most sense to you. I know a lot of people who love practicing Buddhism as their preferred religious practice and they practice it as a religion and there’s nothing wrong with that. Find the answer that works for you, but what I shared today, that’s my view and my answer.

Before we stop this podcast episode, I want to remind you about these workshops that I’m doing. I’ve done one in Salt Lake City last weekend. It was very well received. I’m doing one coming up very soon in Seattle, so if you’re in the Seattle area, September third, there’s a workshop there. There’s one in London in the UK on September 18th. That’s a Sunday. You can get all this information on secularbuddhism.com. Then a reminder, next year, January 26th through February 4th, we’re doing a humanitarian trip to Uganda. We’ll be doing humanitarian work along with a mindfulness retreat, so if you’re in a position to be able to do that and that sounds interesting to you, consider coming with me and a small group of people to Uganda to do humanitarian work and learn more about mindfulness. It’ll be a lot of fun. You can learn more about that on mindfulhumanitarian.org.

Thank you for listening. I’ve mentioned this before, but I really believe that if we have the desire to contribute to making society or the world a better place, a more peaceful place, it starts by making our own lives more peaceful. We work on ourselves. We always have these grand desires to change the world and yet the only thing we can ever change is ourselves. It’s by changing ourselves, ironically, that we do change the world. That’s why I’m determined to produce podcast content and workshops and retreats and tools that will help us to be more mindful. Mindful individuals are the key to mindful families and mindful societies. That’s why I do what I do because I enjoy it. There’s nothing to convert to or convert away from. I’m just trying to present another perspective.

If you are in a position to be able to contribute, your generous donations allow me to continue producing weekly content for The Secular Buddhism Podcast, along with the workshops, content for the workshops and retreats and seminars. If you’re interested and you’re in a position to be able to help, please visit secularbuddhism.com to make a one-time donation or to sign up as a monthly supporter of the podcast. Thank you again for listening and thank you for your continued support and I look forward to another podcast episode next week. Have a good week, and until next time.

24 – The Journey is the Goal


Life is a journey and the journey is the goal. What would life be like if we did things for the sake of doing them? In this episode, I will explore the idea of learning to enjoy the journey instead of always focusing on destinations.

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Transcript of the podcast episode

Hello, you are listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 24. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about how the journey is the goal.

Welcome back to the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is a weekly podcast that focuses on Buddhist concepts, topics, and teachings presented for a secular minded and audience. The Dalai Lama has said to try to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you are already are. So please keep that in mind as you listen to this episode. If you enjoy this podcast, please share it with others, write a review or give it a rating in iTunes.

And if you’re in a position to be able to help, I would greatly appreciate you making a one-time donation or becoming a monthly contributor to the podcast, and you can do that by visiting secularbuddhism.com.

Now let’s jump into this week’s topic.

I want you to imagine for a minute, your favorite destination, maybe somewhere that you’ve wanted to visit but haven’t visited yet. So maybe it’s Europe or Asia, or some exotic location. Picture it in your mind. And imagine you finally get to go there, and you land at the airport, and the first thing you need to do is jump on a train to get to wherever it is that you’re going. Maybe the hotel or something. And imagine that you’re sitting on the train and the train gets going and you’re looking down at the map, or looking up at the map. Some trains have them posted there on the side of the wall. And you’re paying attention to the various stops along the way.

And you’re focused on the stop where you need to get off, so as you pay attention to each of these stops, with every stop you look. You look out and see what’s there at the stop. Maybe it’s snacks or souvenirs or different vendors at different stops. And if you’ve ever been on a train, sometimes they come up to the windows and try to sell you stuff. At least where I grew up in Mexico, that, that was common on the train.

But anyway, the point of this exercise is to imagine that you’ve been focused on each of these stops and you finally arrive at your destination, and it occurs to you that you hadn’t paid attention throughout the journey and, to look out the window and simply enjoy the view. Imagine how sad it would be at that point to realize, that you missed the journey, because you were so focused on the various destinations and stops along the way.

And that’s kind of what we end up doing in life. Life is a journey and it just goes and goes and goes. And we, we divide it into milestones. You know when I graduate from school, that’s a milestone. When I get married. When I land the job that I’ve wanted. When I start my own business. When I have kids. When I finally get divorced. You know whatever these stops are that we create, these milestones on the journey of life.

Often times by the time you reached the end, what you’ll find is that you’ve missed enjoying the journey as it, as it unfolded because we get so focused on the stops that we don’t, we don’t pay attention, and simply enjoy the view all along the way.

That’s kind of what I wanted to talk about in this week’s podcast episode. The idea is that the journey is the goal. In previous podcasts, I’ve talked about how our tendency is to take a very utilitarian approach to the things in life. You know, I go to school because I’m trying to get a degree. I’m trying to get a degree because I want to have a better job. I want to have a better job because a job pays better money. If I have more money, I get to you know, go on vacation, and have better memories.

And this process becomes a cycles and it goes on and on and on. And the problem with it is that we end up replacing the journey with the goal. Let’s just start at the first one. Imagine the idea of school. Imagine if the goal was to simply learn. If my goal was to obtain knowledge, and to learn something, I would go to school. And that was the original intent of it. And I go to school because I want to learn. The degree that you get at the end, what if that was treated as, well that just happens, that just happens to be what I get at the end. And some people do this, but I would say the vast majority of people, our tendency is to get caught up in the stations in of the train journey.

We get caught up the you know, the expression that the means justify the ends, or the ends justify the ends. This is that concept. What if the goal was to obtain knowledge vs the goal is to get a degree? Because you can get a degree and maybe not really have learned anything in the process. Because then you’re set up in a system where you think, what if the goal was the degree, what does it take the degree? Then all of the means can justify the ends.

Whether that be I’m going to cheat on my test, or I’m going to do the bare minimum that I can do and get C’s. You can do all that and that’s justified because the goal was the degree. The goal was not to obtain knowledge. Whereas, if the goal was to obtain knowledge, you’re going to pay attention in your classes. You’re going take better notes. You’re going to try and read and study things because the goal was knowledge. And the result happens to be the degree.

Can you see the difference though? And that’s just taking one concept. Going to school with the goal of gaining knowledge. Well imagine if we apply that to all of the areas in life, and we do things to do them, rather than. So this is where it gets tricky because if you were to take a certain part of you life, look at it and try to understand. Do I do this for the sake of doing it? Or is there an end, and end goal that becomes the rewards sort of speak.

Because what you’ll find is, if you get caught up in the idea of always looking for that next station, looking for that next something. We’re no really different than the hamster that stuck in the hamster wheel that’s running. And you’re in a hamster wheel and you’re running, and it’s not that that’s a bad thing. You can stay on the hamster wheel for as long as you want.

And my goal isn’t to tell you, “Hey you need to get off the hamster wheel.” No, you’re free to stay on the hamster wheel. My goal isn’t to change. I’m not trying to teach you or change you or do anything like that. I’m simply trying to bring a new perspective into the way that we experience the journey of life.

And this is the perspective that Buddhist philosophical concepts bring to the table. It’s saying, “Hey, you’re running and it’s hot and you’re sweating, and you’re miserable. You can keep dong that if you want. There’s no reason not to.” Or you can say, or you can realize, “Hey, you’re never going to get what you’re after so calm down.”

And, and that’s tricky cause some people will hear that, and they’re like, “What do you mean I’ll never get what I’m after. Of course I am. I’m going to keep working hard. You watch me.”

They go and they finally land the job they wanted. “See, I got it!”

Well yeah, you got what you thought you wanted but are you done? Are you content?

No, cause now I need to become, I need to get my promotion or I need to. There’s always something that we’re seeking. That’s the concept of the hamster wheel. You’re always seeking something. Just like on the train, you’re always waiting for the next step. And you think when I finally get to that stop, then I’m going to be happy. Or then I’m going to whatever. And you get there and maybe you experience that contentment. Maybe it last a little bit. And then, guess what, you’re waiting for the next stop. There’s something else.

And all of use have experienced this. We all experience it. Just imagine your own life and ask yourself, “What are those stops? I’m on the train ride. What are those stops I’m looking forward to that are coming up?” We all have stops coming up that we’re looking forward to. Whether we get there or not, but we have those stops so imagine what some of yours are.

And then ask yourself, “How much more different would this journey be, with this experience be, if I was doing things just for the sake of doing them? If I understood that the journey is the goal, not the destination. The destination isn’t the goal, the journey is the goal.”

Like I mentioned before, if the goal was to obtain knowledge, then the experience of going to school would be very different than if the goal was to obtain the degree. And we, in our society, we’ve kind of being conditioned to have end goals that we aspire too. And I think a really common one, at least in our society, the idea of reward.

Maybe it’s reward in the after-life. The idea that if I do good now, I may be rewarded for it in the future. Now compare that to what I talked about with going to school to obtain knowledge vs going to school to obtain a degree. If you believe in a reward or punishment in the afterlife, if you believe in afterlife. Imagine, well what if, what if the purpose of being alive, my goal is to be kind for the sake of being kind, without any attachment for aspiring for reward or out of fear for punishment?

Imagine the difference in those 2 scenarios. Doing something just to do it vs doing something for whatever we think the goal is at the end of it all. It’s a very different thing. Just like going to school for knowledge vs going to school for a degree. Now I kind of, the reason I came up with this topic this week. It’s been about 15 days since the last podcast episode and in the middle of this … of these last 15 days I had to move my office and my warehouse to a new location.

I’ve had a lot going on that’s kept me busy and I’ve had 3 or 4 ideas for a podcast episode, but I just barely found myself for the first time since I started for the podcast trying to plan it. This is what I have to talk about. This is what I expect to happen when I talk about. This is what I hope people get out of it. And I realized, oh no, that’s not the mindful approach.

It took me several days to realize this, that I was on my own hamster wheel trying to, trying to find what the milestone was I was trying to get at. And I realized, there is no milestone. The whole reason I started this podcast is because I enjoy talking about these topics. It’s not because I’m trying to change people. I’m not trying to convert anyone to the Buddhist philosophical way of life.

There is no end goal. I am sharing this in the same way you would hear a bird that happens to be singing. There is no goal. The bird isn’t trying to entertain anyone. It just does what it does. If you happen to enjoy it, good. And that’s the approach I want to take with this podcast.

Rather than trying to plan it and have expectations of what I think will come of it, I want to share the wisdom that I’ve learned through studying Buddhism. Because I honestly enjoy talking about it. And if you happen to enjoy it and get something out of it, that’s great.

But I hope it never comes across that I’m trying to convince anyone of anything, because I’m not. Like the quote that I mentioned in every podcast. There’s no-“You don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be better whatever you already are, cause every body is already a something.”

So that’s just a quick side note. So throughout the week, I’ve been thinking I’m caught up in this myself trying to make something of this when the reality is I want to share what I enjoy talking about. And that’s Buddhist concepts. I’m fascinated by eastern philosophy and Buddhism specifically.

So I wanted to kind of share that with you. So taking this concept of understanding that the journey is the goal, imagine the idea of love. When you love someone, you love naturally. We don’t love because we’re compelled to love. If you love your parents, or your siblings or your children, you love them because you love them. And if you don’t love them because you’re supposed to love them. You don’t love them because you’re being commanded or compelled to love them. It just happens naturally.

So this is a perfect example of something that’s done just for the sake of it being done. And I’ve thought about this a lot. And I’ve wondered what would it be like to feel compelled to love someone. You’re commanded to love someone. Okay. I would never be able to get at an authentic or genuine love in that relationship because it would always feels like, well am I love him because I’m suppose to love or because I’m compelled to love, or because it just happens naturally. You would never know.

And that’s why love is one of those things that can not be compelled. In several Buddhist traditions and zen, and zen specially. Their stories of encountering someone and realizing, “Oh, they’re enlightened.”

“Well how did you know they were enlightened?” because whatever they were doing, they were just doing it. When they were sitting they were just sitting. When they were walking, they were walking. When they were doing the dishes, they were doing the dishes. And it can be baffling cause you’re like, “Well okay, well everyone does that.”

But the thing is we don’t. We don’t do things just to do them. I had this problem for a long time, I really despised washing dishes. And when I would do the dishes, the goal is to get done as quickly as possible because you don’t want to do the dishes. And I think this is applicable in many areas of life. We do things with the utilitarian mindset.

I’m doing the dishes so that they’re clean so I can eat more cereal, another bowl of cereal. Or I go to work because I’m trying to make more money, or whatever it is. What would it be like to do it just because that’s what you’re doing. So I practice this and I’ve developed a habit of doing the dishes just to do the dishes. And rather than rushing through it, to hurry and be done, not that I’m slowing down either, I’m just doing the dishes. I’m trying to focus on the simple act of doing the dishes.

And I practice this with people too. If you’re talking to someone, talk to someone. Don’t talk to someone and be thinking, “Oh, I just heard my phone vibrate. I must have a Facebook notification or a text or whatever it is.” Cause that’s really common I’m sure you’ve experienced this, especially in our day and age.

Trying to communicate with someone who isn’t just communicating. They’re multi-tasking. And it can be very frustrating. And yet our tendency is to do this with a lot of things. When we drive, we’re-there’s a utilitarian purpose. I’m in my car but really I’m trying to get home. What if I drove just to drive? I mean I have to drive to get home. There’s no way around that. But what if while I’m driving, I enjoyed driving just for the sake of driving? Sure there’s an end goal, but what if I could learn to enjoy the journey? And when the red light shows up, and I stop rather than thinking, “This is slowing me down. This is a bad thing.” Just pause and look around and think “What can I notice here that I’ve never noticed here before?”

It’s a really fun exercise to do and because I have a new path, I told you I have a new warehouse, my new path home. It’s been easy the last couple of weeks to focus on this. And at each red light, I’ll pause and look around and say, “What-what have I never noticed here?” And I’ll see this little store on that corner. And like, “Oh, I never saw that store.”

Or I’ll see. I’m looking for new things. New things that I may not have been aware of before. And I think it’s, it’s a way to practice pausing. It’s a way to try to practice getting away from the mindset of whatever the end-goal is I’m trying to reach. What if I try to enjoy just the process? It’s practicing the journey as the goal.

So I would invite you to practice that this week. Whatever it is that you’re doing. If you sitting, if you’re walking, if you’re talking, if you’re doing the dishes, walking the dog, diving your car. Whatever it is, try to catch yourself and recognize the difference of that experience when you’re doing it for the sake of doing it vs you’re doing it to reach your goal.

Whatever your goal is, try to focus on that this week and see if you notice a difference. The crazy thing with the hamster wheel, I call this the hamster wheel of materialism. So we’re always after something. I’m working hard to get a raise, I’m trying to get a raise so that I can buy a boat. I’m trying to get the boat so I can-whatever, it’s a cycle and it goes on and on and on.

And if you can jump off of the wheel of materialism, typically the mistake is that we jump onto the wheel of spirituality thinking, “Okay, now that I’m not caught up in that materialism stuff, I’m going to be very spiritual.”

And now you’re on the hamster wheel of spirituality. When I can finally learn to meditate, then I’ll be happy. If I can finally, and this goes on and on and on, and now you’re on another hamster wheel. And I would say the hamster wheel of spirituality is more dangerous than the hamster wheel of materialism.

So don’t make that mistake. The spiritual journey like any other journey is also to be enjoyed with the journey itself as the goal. When you sit to mediate, if you practice mediation, do it without and end goal. Instead of sitting and thinking, my goal to meditation is so that I can finally be peaceful. What if the goal of meditation is to simply and observe? I’m sitting here and I’m observing my thoughts. There is no goal. That’s actually the objective of mindfulness meditation is to learn to observe. We’re really bad at observing.

We tend to want to be analyzing and making meaning of things. So we practice sitting and observing and there is no end goal. There’s no, if I do this right, this will happen. There’s none of that. What you’re doing is you’re sitting there and you’re watching. Just like you would sit on the porch of your house, at the front door and watch cars go by. There’s no goal. You don’t sit there and think, “I’m gonna, I’m gonna sit here and watch until this or that happens.” Because you’re never going to know what happens. You sit there and watch with non-judgment.

And if you ever try this with your thoughts, it’s an incredible experience. To sit and watch and to observe the thoughts in a non-judgemental, non-neutral way. And in this process, you’re going to get it. You’re going to get the greatest thing you’ll ever get is that there’s nothing to get. And that happens by observing. And when you actually get that, that’s there nothing to get, that’s awakening. That’s enlightenment, in my opinion. That’s the concept of letting go because you’re letting go.

What is it you are you letting go of? Of thinking that you, there was something to reach. There’s nothing to reach and if you think there is something to reach, you’re on the hamster wheel. And the moment you step off and understand there’s nothing to get, now you just start to enjoy the journey.

The journey becomes the goal. It’s the most beautiful experience because then every part of it is enjoyable because it’s part of the journey. There is no goal. And there’s a Tibetan saying. It says, “If we know how to be content, it’s like holding a treasure in the palm of our hands.” And this ultimately what I’m eluding to in this topic of understanding is that the journey is the goal. There’s a significant amount of contentment that can be experienced when we let go of whatever our goal, our destination is, the stops on the train on the journey of life.

I’m not saying don’t have goals, don’t have aspirations, don’t try to get a career, don’t want to get a raise, you don’t want a raise. I’m not saying that. I think it’s perfectly acceptable and naturally and normal to have goals. In fact, if you don’t have goals, it’s very difficult to progress in career or to progress you know with other things.

All I’m saying, there’s a quote that I think does a good job of explaining this. It says, “Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you.” Taking that and applying it to this, I’m not saying detachment in the sense in the journey is the goal. I’m not saying detach from the aspirations of these milestones that are coming up. It’s that don’t let those own you. Don’t let those be-don’t be blinded from what’s happening in the present moment because you’re continually looking forward to what’s happening in a future moment. That’s what I’m trying to get, to get at in this topic.

As I mentioned before, there’s really no goal with it. It’s just a thought experiment. Give this a try this week and try to do things for the sake of doing them. Try to focus and understand that the journey is the goal, and see how that goes of you. I’d love to hear what you think about that and what that feels like to really practice that. And a good time to do that is when you’re driving. We’re always driving for a purpose. To get somewhere or to get away from somewhere.

Driving is a very utilitarian experience. But what if we learn to drive, while we’re driving, we learn to experience the journey? I mean that’s a literal journey. What if you could actually focus on the goal while you’re driving? And take in everything that’s happening around you and don’t feel rushed to wherever you’re trying to get.

Just enjoy the drive. So this week try to enjoy the drive. Let me know how that goes.

As a quick reminder, we have a study group on Facebook. If you go to Facebook, you can find a group called Secular Buddhism. There’s a Secular Buddhism Facebook page that has about 30,000 fans on there. That’s how you know that’s the page. And then there’s a group that has about 500 members and we do, we post topics and that’s a good place for you to come on and comment about what you’re listening or trying, experimenting with on the podcast.

So go on there and find the Secular Buddhism Facebook group if you want to be a part of that. And as a quick reminder, I am hosting Mindfulness Humanitarian Aid trip to Uganda, January 26th through February 4th next year. We have a few open spots for that still. You can get more information about that by visiting MindfulHumanitarian.org.

And then there are the one day developing mindfulness workshops and the purpose of these workshops is to give an introduction to Secular Buddhism and learn to develop mindfulness as a daily practice. And I’m doing one in Salt Lake City on August 20th, that’s coming up, one in Seattle on September 3rd, and one in London, in the UK on Sunday, September 18th. You can find information on all of this on secularbuddhism.com, if you go under events.

So that’s all I have for this week. Thank you for taking the time to listen to this podcast. I’ve received a lot of emails from people who listen to the podcast, thanking me for the topics that I talk about. And I do this because I enjoy it. And I’ve asked for support from anyone whose in a position to be able to make a donation or become a reoccurring donor to the podcast.

And that is what allows me to do this more. If I had the support to be able to do that, to do this full time, I would. I just don’t. And I believe that the key to making society or the world a better place, is just by making ourselves better people. I’m not out to try and change the world. I’m out to try and change myself, and I’m the only person who can change me. Nobody, nobody can change you. You’re the only one who can change you.

And that’s why I do this podcast. These are topics that I enjoy talking about, and I’m determined to continue producing content and creating tools that will help us to be more mindful. Because mindful individuals typically, create mindful families, and mindful families make up for mindful societies. The irony is that by focusing on changing just me, I’m contributing to changing the world. But my goal isn’t to change the world because the journey is the goal.

And I just want to enjoy the journey, but your generous, generous donations allow me to continue to produce weekly content for this podcast along with the content for the workshops and retreats and seminars. And I do plan on eventually making this a course that’s available online.

So, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me. You can go to secularbuddhism.com and that’s an easy way to contact me. Find me on Facebook. I’ve become Facebook friends with a lot of you who listen to the podcast.

And I really enjoy this, and I’m trying to figure out where all this goes and where we take this from here. So I support your feedback and your friendship, and thank you. Thank you very much and I look forward to recording another one next week. So until next time.