Why do we suffer? Is there a purpose to our pain? Noting that human beings have wrestled with such questions for thousands of years, Phillip Moffitt has found answers for his own life in Buddhist philosophy and meditation. Reflecting on his own journey from Esquire magazine editor-in-chief to Buddhist meditation teacher, Moffitt provides a fresh perspective on the Buddha's ancient wisdom, showing how to move from suffering to new awareness and unanticipated joy.
In this deeply spiritual book that is sure to become a Buddhist classic, Moffitt explores the twelve insights that underlie the Buddha's core teachingthe Four Noble Truthsand uses these often neglected ideas to guide readers to a more meaningful relationship to suffering. Moffitt write: "These twelve insights teach you to dance with both the joy and pain, finding peace in a balanced mind and calm spirit. As the most specific, practical life instructions I have ever encountered, they serve as an invaluable tool for anyone who seeks a life filled with meaning and well-being." Practicing these twelve insights, as Moffitt suggests, will help readers experience life's difficulties without being filled with stress and anguish, and they will enhance their moments of happiness.
With engaging writing and a strong message of self-empowerment, Dancing with Life offers a prescriptive path for finding joy and peace that will appeal to meditation students and readers of "Dharma Wisdom," Moffitt's column in Yoga Journal, as well as anyone searching for a more authentic life.
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About the Author
Phillip Moffitt walked away from his highly successful post as chief executive and editor-in-chief of Esquire magazine in 1987 to live the inner life. Founder and president of the Life Balance Institute, a nonprofit organization devoted to the study and practice of spiritual values in daily life, Moffitt teaches vipassana meditation at retreat centers around the country and holds a weekly meditation class in Marin County, California. He is an award-winning essayist and is a regular contributor to Yoga Journal. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area.
Read an Excerpt
DANCING LESSONS: HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
The Twelve Insights of the Four Noble Truths are instructions for the practice of self-liberation. They will not protect you from experiencing dukkhaloss and difficulty are an unavoidable reality in our everyday human existence. Even the Buddha experienced pain and loss during his life, such as back pain and grief at the deaths of close friends. However, these Twelve Insights will enable you to relate to your suffering in such a way that it does not define you. It is possible to fully experience the precious and beautiful moments in life as they occur, yet not be desperate for them. Likewise, you can fully experience the difficult in life without being filled with stress and anguish. These Twelve Insights teach you to dance with both the joy and the pain, finding peace in a balanced mind and calm spirit. As the most specific, practical life instructions I have ever encountered, they serve as an invaluable tool for anyone who seeks a life filled with meaning and well-being.
When the Buddha taught the Twelve Insights of the Four Noble Truths, he first presented the problem: There is dukkha, which is a result of how the untrained mind reacts to ever-changing conditions (the First Noble Truth). Then he presented the cause of the problem: Your mind falls into clinging and grasping because of wanting (the Second Noble Truth). Next he presented the solution: A different result is possible, which is the cessation of suffering (the Third Noble Truth). And finally he presented the cause of this radically different result: The Eightfold Path (the Fourth Noble Truth). Thus, the Buddha, like a doctor, tells the patient what the illness is, diagnoses the cause, tells the patient the cure for the condition, and recommends the medicine needed to bring about the cure.
There are three insights associated with each Noble Truth, and they follow a similar pattern: first reflecting, then directly experiencing, and finally knowing. The Buddha taught that in order to completely understand a Noble Truth, you first reflect on it as a conceptual description of a general truth in life. Hence, to gain the First Insight of each Noble Truth, you critically examine it in your mind to see if it makes intellectual and common sense. When you intellectually know that a given Noble Truth is at least logical and theoretically possible, then the Buddha directs you to the second insight of each Truth. This insight requires you to consciously seek to realize the Truth. You immerse yourself in the truth and therefore experience its validity for you personally. Practicing the Second Insight for each Truth means seeking direct experience of it in your own life through mindful, compassionate awareness. (In Chapter 2, I offer detailed instructions for how to practice each insight using mindfulness meditation.) It is tempting in meditation practice to skip this step in relation to the first two Noble Truths, to jump into a detached, witnessing state about suffering and its cause without knowing the "felt experience" of the Truth. But if you do, you can easily get stuck in your practice. I have witnessed this many times, even in students with years of experience. Their lives don't change and they become disappointed in themselves, but have no understanding as to why they are getting stuck.
The Second Insight of each Truth is not theoretical; you are to experience it in your body, to know both the "wow" and the "ouch" of it. This direct experience is what makes the Buddha's teaching a living wisdom, rather than a philosophy or ontology. The Buddha's offering is not a theory about being, but the actual felt experience of being in your life. That is its liberating power.
Finally, having carefully thought about the Noble Truth and known the embodied experience of it, you are ready for the Third Insightknowing. Ajahn Sumedho refers to this insight as the call to "know that you know."1 It involves mindfully integrating what you've just learned and felt into your daily life. People often leave this step out of their spiritual (and psychological) work, as well. And yet, without it, you are likely to lose your grasp on the Truth and return rapidly to your old habits. Soon you'll be living the way you've always been living, in spite of your recent revelations. In my view, knowing is a vital step in each Noble Truth because without it, nothing is really accomplished.
Let's take the First Noble Truth as an example of how these three insights work. First, you examine what the Buddha means by the teaching, "There is dukkha." Does this statement ring true in your life? Is there suffering in the lives of those around you? Second, you open yourself to the experience of suffering. You penetrate it by seeing, tasting, and touching it in a heartfelt manner. Rather than being an uninvolved witness, you seek to directly experience suffering within the body and the mind by staying present with it. You feel the pain, the "ouch" of it, in effect. Third, you realize that you now know for yourself the implications of the Truth, in this case that "there is dukkha." You start to live your life from this known truth, letting go of judgment, of the belief that when you suffer, you somehow fail. Instead, you're willing to meet your suffering and view it as an opportunity for personal growth. You mindfully respond to rather than emotionally react to it.
1 Many times this third insight is interpreted as meaning, "what needed to be done has been done," or, in other words, that you've had the realization of that particular truth. However, this perspective is not always so helpful as you proceed along the path, because it doesn't point to the practice aspect of the Third Insight of each Truth. This is an example of how hearing the Four Noble Truths as practice requires a mind shift. Throughout this book I use language that describes what it's like to practice the truth from an unliberated state of mind, as opposed to the perspective of a mind that has already achieved liberation.
Naturally, as with any practice, there are layers of understanding and ability. You dig deeper and become more skillful over time. You do not gain each insight separately and serially, but through a spiraling process of ever-deepening self-knowledge. With every step, you achieve greater peace and understanding.
A FRESH PERSPECTIVE ON AN ANCIENT WISDOM
Dancing with Life is a teaching about moving from suffering to joy in your life. This teaching involves your learning each of the three practice insights for each of the Four Noble Truths. These insights, when directly realized, bring you to the experience of wholeness and unity in your life.
The practices for each of the Noble Truths are treated like a self- contained book. Therefore, you can read Dancing with Life as four books, each complete in itself. Each "book" contains an overview and four chapters. In the overview for each book, I provide an interpretation of that particular Truth. The overview is followed by three chapters that explore the three insights related to that Truth: The First Insight for each Truth is to be understood by reflecting on the Truth; the Second Insight is to be practiced by directly experiencing the Truth; and the Third Insight is gained by knowing that you know the Truth. Finally, a summary chapter on the Truth helps you apply these insights in everyday life. Preceding Book One are instructions on mindfulness practices that you will need to investigate the Twelve Insights. Even if you are a longtime meditator, I recommend that you not skip over these instructions because they contain certain key concepts that you may not have learned elsewhere. (See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the Twelve Insights.)
I ask that you be sensitive to the fact that although there are Twelve Insights, the Buddha's teaching is in no way a "twelve-step program," through which you must progress one by one. On the contrary, the insights are fluid and interrelated. It is like being a porpoise in the ocean that suddenly gains consciousness and wonders, "What is the nature of this water that I swim in, from which I am not separate?" You may skip some chapters and come back to them later, or return to certain insights over and over again. You may find that what is most relevant to you are the practices in the book on the First Noble Truth, the Truth of Suffering, for this is where you are in your life. Or you may find that the practices in Book Two around the causes of suffering are most helpful. Or you may find intellectual reflection on each of the Truths to be your starting point. Feel free to proceed as you see fit.
Throughout each chapter, I refer to modern psychological perspectives that support the insight and make it more understandable to the Western mind. These references come primarily from the evolving vision of Jungian psychology that I studied for many years with analyst Dr. Joseph Henderson and from years of extensive reading and exploration on my own. The writings of the analyst and classicist Helen Luke, which I discovered while serving on the board of the C. G. Jung Foundation in New York and the Jung Institute in San Francisco, have been very valuable to me.
To convey the feelings associated with practicing particular insights, I also offer excerpts from the poetry of T. S. Eliot. Eliot, who in midlife became a devoted Anglican Christian, once said that he could just as easily have become a Buddhist. His poetry captures the essence of spiritual realization that unites Buddhism and the Judeo-Christian tradition. In working with students, I often base entire teaching sessions around just a few lines from Eliot's Four Quartets because they so perfectly capture the feeling of the truth of inner experience. In a lecture in 1947, Eliot stated: "If we learn to read poetry properly, the poet never persuades us to believe anything.... What we learn from Dante or the Bhagavad-Gita or any other religious poetry is what it feels like to believe that religion." Dancing with Life holds forth the possibility that you can feel the truth of your own liberation, not as a concept but as a direct experience of your true nature; Eliot's poetry proves highly suitable for this purpose. 2
DANCING WITH YOUR LIFE, JUST AS IT IS
This book does not offer academic theories, vague promises of enlightenment, or repetitions of general ideas about the Four Noble Truths. Rather it presents a practical approach for dealing with pain and hardship. It leads you along the path of exploring sufferingall suffering, but yours in particularin order to reach a destination where you can experience what is called a "direct" or intuitive knowledge of the meaning of suffering in your own life. Through this intuitive knowledge, you can find a new relationship with your suffering that will bring you increased meaning, joy, and liberation, no matter how difficult your life may be.
2 I am not presenting either C. G. Jung or T. S. Eliot as examples of fully enlightened beings. Biographers still debate flaws in each man's character. But I have come to the conclusion that at a certain point in each of their lives, they experienced remarkable insights. In part, each had these insights in response to their own struggles, and so it is with us. Being less than perfect, we can benefit from their gained wisdom, and suspend opinions and judgments for now.
Other spiritual teachers have offered advice on how to deal with pain and hardship. But it was the Buddha who specifically focused on liberation from suffering as the path to liberation in life. Other religions and methodologies (such as therapy) may offer techniques for coping with suffering and examining its origins, but they do not offer freedom from it in this manner. I have witnessed thousands of peopleincluding psychotherapeutic professionals and their clientssuccessfully find their way along this path, opening themselves to unanticipated joy.
Let me be perfectly clear that in order to take the Buddhist approach, it is not necessary for you to adopt a creed, sacrifice your religion, or transform yourself into some new person. You simply must have faith in the possibility that understanding your suffering can bring about a radical change in how you experience life. In other words, you must suspend your doubt long enough to see for yourself what you are capable of realizing. At the same time, you should not underestimate this challenge, as it demands that you voluntarily show up for your own suffering with no agenda other than knowing the truth of it.
Dancing with Life is a very personal book in that every individual suffers through his or her own life experiences in a unique way. At the same time, it is a very impersonal book in that sufferinglike happinessis a universal stream flowing through each of us. Standing in the stream, we only experience the suffering that flows around us. Our view is only through our eyesour context, body sensations, and emotions are unique. But all humans share suffering. Therefore the practices of mindfulness and meditation presented here can apply to and be harnessed effectively by everyone, regardless of age, gender, religion, or national background.
I feel confident that the Twelve Insights provide a waynot the way, mind you, but a wayinto a more meaningful relationship with life. I base this judgment on my experiences over the last 37 years with my own meditation and yoga practice, as well as my experiences as a vipassana teacher. I can honestly say that I know of no better method of reflection and practice than that contained in the Buddha's teachings of these twelve insights. Penetrating suffering to this level spontaneously brings freedom and profound peace of mind.
May this book help you learn to dance with lifeyour life just as it is.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is great, helpful and very deep. It is amazing how the author have such insight about the human suffering, or better, how he can translate the Buddha teachings to our twenty first century life being so clear and precise. But don't be foolish, it is not a simple book in the way that the teachings can be assimilated very easily. It is so intense that it needs to be read many times in order to be assimilated at least to the minimum. Also, at the end, it has a good number of suggestions of further reading and websites that are very helpful as well. It is the best book I read in a long time that talks so clear about the human condition.
Is this book any good i difnt read it is it stupid i gits to know
I am a Shin Buddhist and I have been studying the four truths for sometime and I have been going through some hard patches in my life that are continuing to date. Some chapters in this book showed me how I act to the tee when I don't get what I want. I have given this book to four of my friends already. I ready this book everytime things get hard to deal with. I will use it for the rest of my life
Why do you suffer? Is there a purpose to your pain? These questions come up for all of us at some time, as they did for the Buddha 2,500 years ago. In his wisdom, he developed a way through suffering, which he called the Four Noble Truths, and he left us the Twelve Insights to guide us through them. Using examples from his own life and those of his students, and the step-by-step process of the Twelve Insights, Phillip Moffitt shows us how we can walk through our suffering to a path of joy. First we learn to embrace suffering through the First Noble Truth. In the Second Noble Truth, we learn there is a way to stop clinging. The Third Noble Truth shows us cessation of suffering is possible. And the Fourth Noble Truth offers us the Noble Eightfold Path to happiness. Pain and suffering come to all of us, and at times can feel overwhelming. But Moffitt gives us clear and compelling reasons to believe that these Twelve Insights are the way to handle suffering and create a life filled with joy. Though at times the path won¿t be easy, there is hope that we can learn to live with our pain and still enjoy our dance with life. A profoundly spiritual book, Dancing With Life is a must-read for all those who want to find deeper meaning in life. Reviewer: Alice Berger, Bergers Book Reviews