When I was little, my grandma had this little green Buddha statue.
It wasn’t a statue of the original Buddha, but rather a statue of what’s generally considered Maitreya, the “future” Buddha, usually represented as a hefty man sitting with his robe partly opened and often with beads around his neck. This particular statue was a pretty common image, one where his belly protruded out to reveal his belly button.
My grandma would always tell me, “Rub his tummy and you’ll have good luck!” So naturally, as a kid, I rubbed his tummy every chance I got. I was supposed to rub his bellybutton specifically, as I remember trying to lay my finger on his tiny belly button and rub in a circle, despite the fact that the belly button was a fraction of a millimeter in diameter.
But I also, like many others, had heard many a number of insightful Buddha quotes and sayings growing up that seemed to “pull” me in, and almost always ring a response like, “Exactly!” or, “That’s so true!”
It’s because of this that despite all my negative misconceptions, I continued to be interested in Buddhism growing up, until one day I actually picked up a book, stopped learning from the collective misconceptions of the Western consciousness, and began learning from the real thing.
Buddhism holds within it a treasure trove of wisdom, not to mention wisdom easily applicable in one’s everyday life and by all people of various backgrounds, beliefs, and preferences.
Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “Buddhism is made up of all non-Buddhist elements.” And this couldn’t be truer. When it comes down to it, Buddhism is really just a collection of methods and ways of realizing the ultimate truths of this life, and the path to discovering true peace and happiness.
Whether Buddhist, a collector of universal wisdom, or just someone interested in finding practical ways to improve their life, this list presents 12 powerful and potentially transformative pieces of Buddhist wisdom which you can benefit from.
1. Live with compassion
Compassion is one of the most revered qualities in Buddhism and great compassion is a sign of a highly realized human being.
First, self-compassion is altogether critical towards finding peace within yourself. By learning to forgive yourself and accepting that you’re human you can heal deep wounds bring yourself back from difficult challenges.
Next, we can often be tortured because of the fact that we don’t completely understand why people do certain things.
Compassion is understanding the basic goodness in all people and then seeking to discover that basic goodness in specific people. Because of this, it helps you from going through the often mental torture we experience because we don’t understand the actions of others.
But even more than that, expressing compassion is the very act of connecting wholeheartedly with others, and simply connecting in this way can be a great source of joy for us.
The reasons for practicing compassion are numerous and powerful. Seek to live in a way that you treat everyone you meet as you would yourself. Once you begin trying to do this, it will seem altogether impossible. But keep at it, and you’ll realize the full power of living with compassion.
2. Connect with others and nurture those connections
In Buddhism, a community of practitioners is called a “sangha”. A sangha is a community of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen who practice together in peace towards the united “goal” of realizing greater awakening, not only for themselves but for all beings.
The principle of the sangha can be expressed in your own life in many ways. The sangha is ultimately just one way of looking at life, through the lens of the individual “expressions” of the totality.
By living in a way that you’re fully aware of the power of connecting with others, whether it’s one person or a group of 100, and seeking to nurture those relationships in the appropriate way, you can transform your life in ways that will pay dividends for years to come.
3. Wake up
One of the most powerful points on this list, the power of simply living in a way that you’re fully awake to every moment of your life pretty much couldn’t be exaggerated even if I tried.
Mindfulness, greater awareness, paying attention, whatever you want to call it- it changes every facet of your life and in every way. It’s as simple as that.
Strive to live fully awake to each moment of your daily life and overcome your greatest personal struggles, find a great sense of peace and joy, and realize the greatest lessons life can teach you as a result of living fully awake to the present moment.2
4. Live deeply
To live deeply, in a way that you become keenly aware of the precious nature of life, is to begin down the path of true peace and happiness.
Why? Because to live in this way is to gradually become aware of the true nature of the world. This will happen essentially in “sections” of the whole, such as realizing your interconnectedness (you begin to see how everything is connected to everything else) and impermanence (you begin to see how everything is ever-changing, constantly dying only to be reborn in another form).
These realizations are the bread and butter of Buddhism and all spiritual practice. These “sections of the whole” are fragments of the ultimate realization, ways for us to understand that which can’t be fully understood in the traditional sense.
By living in a way that you seek to realize these various “qualities of the ultimate” you find greater and greater peace in realizing the natural way of things. This cultivates in us the ability to savor every moment of life, to find peace in even the most mundane activities, as well as the ability to transform your typically “negative” experiences into something altogether nourishing and healing.
5. Change yourself, change the world
Buddhists understand that you can hardly help another before you help yourself. But this isn’t referring to you gaining power or riches before you can help others, or living in a way that you ignore others.
This is mostly referring to the fact that because we’re all interconnected, by you helping yourself you create an exponentially positive effect on the rest of the world.
If you want to make an impact on the world, don’t falsely convince yourself that it’s “you or them”1. You don’t need to drag yourself through the mud to help those around you. If you do this, you’ll greatly hamper your ability to create a positive impact.
At the deepest level of understanding, by making it about you you’re also making it about them because you know there’s no separating “you” and “them”.
Take care of yourself and seek to be more than just a help, but an example of how to live for others to follow and you’ll create waves of exponential possibility that inspires others to do the same.
6. Embrace death
Death is an often taboo topic in Western society. We do everything we can to not only avoid the subject, but pretend that it doesn’t even exist.
The reality is, this is really unfortunate and in no way helps us lead better lives. Becoming keenly aware of your own impermanence and deeply understanding the nature of death with regards to our interconnectedness are both things which can help us find great peace.
In Buddhism, students in many sects at one point or another “meditate on the corpse” as it were (a practice which is said to have originated at least as far back as the Buddha’s lifetime).
This is literally what it sounds like. They meditate on the image of a corpse slowing decomposing and imagine that process through to its end, eventually resulting in a deep and profound realization on the true nature of death.
That might sound a little intense to you, but the truth is, if you live you’re entire life acting as if you’re never going to die or ignoring your own impermanence then you won’t ever be able to find true peace within yourself.
You don’t necessarily have to meditate on the image of a corpse, but simply opening up to yourself about death so that you’re no longer shielding it from your mind (which you’re likely doing unconsciously, as that’s how most of us were brought up in the West) can begin to be a great source of peace and help you appreciate the many joys in your everyday life.
A true appreciation for life can never be fully realized until you come face-to-face with your own impermanence. But once you do this, the world opens up in a new and profound way.
7. Your food is (very) special
Meditative practice offers the ability to transform every experience in your everyday life, which I discuss in my forthcoming book Zen for Everyday Life, and food is one of those everyday experiences which is greatly transformed and often in very interesting and rewarding ways.
Buddhist meditative practice, particularly mindfulness and contemplation, helps you realize the precious nature of the food in front of you. Indeed, with how integral a part food plays in our lives, to transform our relationship with food is to transform a key aspect of our entire lives, both now and in the future.
By contemplating on the food in front of us, for example, we can come to realize the vast system of interconnectedness that is our life, and how our food coming to be on our dinner plate as it is depended on numerous elements coming to be.
This helps us to deepen our relationship with food, cultivate a deep sense of gratitude before each meal, and learn to respect the delicate but ever-pressing balance that is life.
8. Understand the nature of giving
Giving is more than the act of giving Christmas and Birthday gifts, it’s also about those gifts which we give each and every day which we don’t typically see as gifts at all.
Buddhists hold a very deep understanding of the nature of giving, particularly in that life is a constant play between the act of giving and receiving. This doesn’t just help us find peace in understanding the way of the world around us, but helps us realize the amazing gifts we all have within us that we can give others in every moment, such as our love, compassion, and presence.
9. Work to disarm the ego
The easiest way to sum up all “spiritual” practice is this: spirituality is the act of coming in touch with the ultimate reality or the ground of being, and as a result spiritual practice is the act of overcoming those obstacles which keep us from realizing that.
The primary obstacle in our way? The ego.
To put it short and sweet, the reason the ego is the major obstacle in spiritual practice, or simply the practice of finding true peace and happiness (whatever you choose to call it, it’s all the same), is because it’s very function is to pull you away from the ground of your being by convincing you that you’re this separate self.
The process of unraveling the ego can take time, as it’s something which has been with us, intertwined with us, for years. But it’s infinitely rewarding and altogether necessary if we want to realize our best life.
10. Remove the 3 poisons
Life is filled with vices, things which attempt to bind us to unwholesome ways of living and therefore do the very opposite of cultivate peace, joy, and greater realization in our lives. Among these, the 3 poisons are some of the most powerful. The 3 poisons are:
Together, these 3 poisons are responsible for the majority of the pain and suffering we experience as a collective species. It’s perfectly normal to be affected by each of these poisons throughout your life, so don’t knock yourself for falling for them.
Instead, simply accept that they’re something you’re experiencing and begin working to remove them from your life. This can take time, but it’s a key aspect on the path towards realizing true peace and happiness.
11. Right livelihood
We should all strive to work and make our living in a way that’s more “conscious” or aware. This generally means not selling harmful items such as guns, drugs, and services that harm other people, but it goes deeper than that.
There’s ultimately two aspects to this: making a living by doing something which doesn’t inhibit your own ability to realize peace and making a living doing something which doesn’t inhibit others ability to realize peace.
Facing this can lead to some interesting situations for some people, and as Thich Nhat Hanh has mentioned this is a collective effort as opposed to a solely personal one (the butcher isn’t a butcher only because he decided to be, but because there is a demand from people for meat to be neatly packaged and made available for them to be purchased from supermarkets), but you should strive to do your best.
Following the teaching on right livelihood can help you realize the harmful effect that your own work is having on you and therefore coming up with a solution can result in a largely positive shift in your life as a whole. Only you can decide if a change needs to happen though.
Whatever the case, seek to make a living doing something that promotes the peace and happiness of yourself and those around you as much as possible.
12. Realize non-attachment
This is a difficult point to put into so few words, but a profound one I felt would be greatly beneficial to mention nonetheless.
To realize non-attachment in a Buddhist sense doesn’t mean to abandon your friends and family and live alone for the rest of your life, never truly living again just so that you don’t become attached to these desires.
Non-attachment refers to living in a way that you exist in the natural flow of life and generally living a typical modern life, building a family, working, etc., while simultaneously not being attached to any of these things. It simply means to live in a way that you’ve become aware of and accepted the impermanence of all things in this life and live in a way that you’re ever-aware of this fact.
It’s perfectly normal for a Zen student in Japan, once having completed his training, to actually de-robe and go “back into the world” so to speak. This is because, once they’ve reached this level of realization, they see the beauty in all things and are compelled to live fully absorbed in all the beauty and wonders of this life. From this point on, they can truly “live life to the fullest”, while not clinging to any of these things.
Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that you stop feeling emotions. On the contrary, these emotions are welcomed and expected, and fully experienced with mindfulness in the moment of their impact. But this is simply the natural course of things.
Once these emotions subside though, and when we have no mental formations or obstructions to block our path, a natural healing process takes place that heals the wound and allows us to continue on living in peace and joy instead of dragging us down into darkness.
Strive to live free, fully aware of the wonders of life and in the very midst of all of those wonders, while not clinging to any of it. To do this is to realize the greatest joy life has to offer.