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Breann Thueson

World Religions
October 7, 2015

The Path to Liberation


In your daily life, how many thoughts would you say run through your mind? Now what
are those thoughts about? Do they involve stress, sadness, happiness, curiosity, love, hate,
confusion, etc.? Much research has been done on the amount of thoughts the average person has
in a day. However, nobody can pinpoint an exact number. The National Science Foundation says
that we have about 50,000 thoughts per day. Now, say that is correct, and that means that about
every 17 seconds we have a new thought (Guru Magazine).1 Throughout our day 80% of our
thoughts are negative, and since our thoughts become our actions, we are more likely to act in a
negative way than a positive way (Cleveland Clinic Wellness).2
Now the Buddha didnt need all of these statistics to know that humans need to learn to control
their thoughts. It is to our benefit to know when to relax, clear, divert and to discipline our
thinking. That is why four of the eight rights in the eightfold path to liberation have to do with
your thoughts. They are: right thought/motivation, right effort, right mindfulness, and right
meditation. Throughout this paper I will be discussing these four aspects of the eightfold path
and their connection to holism, humanism and karma as well as a Buddhist religious service and
interview with a senseis assistant.
1 "How Many Thoughts Does the 'average' Person Have per Day?" Guru Magazine.
N.p., 02 Apr. 2014. Web. 07 Oct. 2015.
2 "Don't Believe Everything You Think." Cleveland Clinic Wellness. N.p., n.d. Web. 7
Oct. 2015.

The eightfold path of Buddhism helps us free ourselves from the bonds of evil (The
Eightfold Path, Bhikkhu Bodhi).3 The right thought/motivation focuses on the reason one does
things. According to Buddhism, we shouldnt be doing things simply because we were told to or
told not to. It is all about the intent of our hearts. For example, you should take the trash out
because you want to help your mom out, not because it is your job. To fully accomplish right
thought everything you do and say must be sincere.
Right effort is something you should do every day. It is focusing on your thoughts
continually and trying to get rid of any thought which is impure. There are four things you can do
that will help you to have pure thoughts. First is to prevent unwholesome thoughts from
occurring. Second, any unwholesome thoughts which have come up, you should drop them and
get rid of them from your mind. Third, bring up those wholesome thoughts that you already have
stored in your mind. Lastly, strengthen those wholesome thoughts (Right Effort, Samma
Vayama).4 These are only a few methods you can use to keep your thoughts pure.
Next is right mindfulness. Right mindfulness is there to make sure that you are aware of
the important aspects of life, such as: holism, that we are all interconnected; humanism, humans
can perfect society; and karma, what goes around comes around (Class notes).5 Ideally each
person should be thinking about these concepts from moment to moment (Class notes).6

3 Bodhi, Bhikkhu. "The Way to the End of Suffering." The Noble Eightfold Path.
Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1999. N. pag. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.
4 Vayama, Samma. "Right Effort." Beyond the Net. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Oct. 2015.
5 Handout #1
6 Handout #2

The last aspect of the eightfold path I am going to discuss is right meditation.Meditation
is not something done at a certain time, in a certain place, or even by certain people. Meditation
is an entirely personal activity. It also is done in different forms by everyone. To meditate you
just have to calm your mind and take deep breaths. Think about all of the good things in life, and
get rid of all of the bad stuff.
To learn more about these four aspects of the eightfold path I attended a Jodo Shinshu Meditation
Ceremony. Jodo Shinshu is one form of Buddhism. There are two main branches of Buddhism,
Theravada and Mahayana, and Jodo Shinshu falls under the Mahayana branch. Towards the end
of the ceremony Carmella, the senseis assistant, more fully explained these branches using this
analogy, Theravada are like the roller vacuums. That do everything on their own. Mahayana are
the vacuums with the cords and attachments (Carmella, 2015).7 In other words, the Theravada
Buddhists dont live a normal life. They dont have families or jobs. They roam around, entirely
unattached from the world. Mahayana Buddhists have worldly possessions. They live normal
lives, go to school, have families, own a house or a car, etc. Mahayana is full of laypeople,
people who practice a religion but arent priests or monks (Webster). These people still practice
Buddhism, but their entire lives arent devoted to it.
Going into the ceremony I thought I might spend the whole hour thinking, or rather not
thinking. However, I realized that once I walked into the temple that wouldnt be the case.
Carmella, sat at the front leading a chant or song. Once I found the correct page in the hymn
book in pew in front of me, I began reading the words from the English translation. The
particular chant or song we sang talks about the Amida Buddha and advises you to take refuge in
him. In Jodo Shinshu they believe that if you call upon the Amida Buddha then he will save you
7 Carmella (Jodo Shinshu Meditation Ceremony, 2015).

by grace (Class notes).8 This particular chant is helping you to understand why you would want
to call upon the Amida Buddha. For example, the last verse in the song says, The Buddhas light
is supreme in radiance; Thus Amida is called, Buddha, Lord of Blazing Light. It dispels the
darkness of the three courses of affliction, So take refuge in Amida, the great one worthy of
offerings (Shin Buddhist Service Book).9 Mentioned in this verse are the three courses of
affliction. These are greed, hate, and illusion (Class notes).10 Therefore, this verse describes that
taking refuge in the Amida Buddha will help you to get rid of these three things.
We continued to chant for about thirty minutes. Once we finished we started to meditate. As we
meditated Carmella would occasionally remind us to have clear thoughts. Later on after the
service as I was talking with Dot, another assistant to the sensei, she explained this concept of
clear thoughts in a better way. She told me that having clear thoughts was not that you just keep
your mind empty constantly. It is being able to suppress any thought that comes into your head,
not dwelling on anything. She said, for example, I have to go to the dentist today. Then you just
drop it. Dont continue to think about how much it will hurt (Dot, 2015).11 This explanation
helped me to understand meditation much more. As I tried to meditate during the ceremony I
thought that I was supposed to just think about nothing, be calm, and just breathe. I thought that
if other thoughts entered into my head I wasnt getting it. After talking with Dot I understood that
it is ok to have thoughts come into your head, as long as you dont continue to dwell on them.

8 Handout #2
9 "Nembutsu Wasa in English." Shin Buddhist Service Book. Anaheim: Buddhist
Education Center, 2014. 82-83. Print.
10 Handout #2
11 Dot (October 11, 2015) Interviewed by Breann Thueson

At the front of the room there was incense coming out of a beautifully adorned vase. The incense
went all throughout the small room. As I spoke with Dot she explained to me that the smoke is a
reminder to everyone of holism. Just as the smoke goes everywhere and touches everything, we
as humans are all interconnected. We are one. We have to help each other become better each
day. This also helps us to remember Right Mindfulness. It keeps our thoughts in the right place.
It keeps us from thinking we are better than anyone else. It helps us to be sure we are only
sending out good karma. As a result of these thoughts you are automatically doing Right Effort,
which is making sure your thoughts are constantly pure.
As I talked with Dot, I asked her about her own meditation. She told me that she loves to
meditate simply because it helps her to slow down for a few minutes, or maybe even thirty or
forty minutes. She explained that although it is easiest to meditate at the temple, she meditated
whenever she could, at a stop light or even waiting in line at a grocery store. She said she just
needs a minute or so to help her thoughts not be so busy and chaotic. This goes to show how
personal meditation is. It is not something that should consume your whole day or all your effort.
It is as simple as you make it.
At the end of the meditation ceremony Carmella talked for a moment about Jodo
Shinshu. She told us that we shouldnt focus on the negative things that happen in life. She said,
The essence of being human is suffering here and there. If you are hurt you can focus on the bad
or the good. Because simultaneously there is healing going on (Carmella, 2015).12 When bad
things happen to us it does us no good to dwell on it, because at the same time something good is
happening. Thinking about how awful your situation is will never improve things. We shouldnt
be worried about the past or the future. Rather, we should be worried about what is happening
12 Carmella (Jodo Shinshu Meditation Ceremony, 2015).

right now. This links right into right effort, keeping all of your thoughts wholesome. According
to the Websters Dictionary wholesome means promoting health or well-being of mind or spirit
(Websters Dictionary).13 Thinking about the negative things in your life certainly doesnt
coincide with right effort.
Learning more about right meditation helped me realize how connected it is with right
mindfulness, right effort and right thought/motivation. They all work hand in hand. As you focus
on these four aspects of the eightfold path you will realize that is who you become. Our thoughts
turn into our actions. That is why it is so important to Buddhists to have their mind in the right
place. They want to act in accordance with what the Buddha would want so that they can one day
reach that Pure Land (Jodo Shinshu Buddhism) or Nirvana.

13 Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.

References

Bodhi, Bhikkhu. "The Way to the End of Suffering." The Noble Eightfold Path. Kandy: Buddhist
Publication Society, 1999. N. pag. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.
Carmella (Jodo Shinshu Meditation Ceremony, 2015).
"Don't Believe Everything You Think." Cleveland Clinic Wellness. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.

Dot (October 11, 2015) Interviewed by Breann Thueson


Handout #1
Handout #2
"How Many Thoughts Does the 'average' Person Have per Day?" Guru Magazine. N.p., 02 Apr.
2014. Web. 07 Oct. 2015.
Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.
"Nembutsu Wasa in English." Shin Buddhist Service Book. Anaheim: Buddhist Education Center,
2014. 82-83. Print.
Vayama, Samma. "Right Effort." Beyond the Net. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Oct. 2015.