Buddhist Toolbox: Creating and Maintaining Life Tools
By Ven. Wayne Hughes
Dangerous weather is on the way. There has been the death of loved one. You’ve been promoted to a higher paying job. The old lady in the car that cut you off on the highway just flipped you off. Your new baby was born. Thousands of people dead in Haiti. You just found a twenty dollar bill in a jacket pocket. You’re bored, ecstatic, depressed or frightened.
Each moment will bring you one of a host of varied experiences. Some you’ll welcome with open arms. Others you might greet with dread. Then there will be those times when life seems absolutely still. The causal process of Universe and the reality of impermanence that is a result of it ensures that things will happen that you have no control over, and others that you do. You can choose to act, overact, or not act at all. You can get mad, or get even, or get over it. You can view experiences as an opportunity to progress or regress. As a human being you have the freedom to choose how you respond. You’ll go into your Life Toolbox and pull out a tool. By habit it may be the one you’ve always used, by chance you might pull out one that works better. One might lead to more unsatisfactoriness and discontentment, the other might lead to harmony.
Buddhist practice can help you fill a Life Toolbox with dispositions, knowledge and experiences that can help you react and act with more positive intention, creative re-describe situations so that more harmony for all involved is achieved. Better living through better tools.
Each of us have a Life Toolbox. Imagine it is sitting right beside you. The box is transparent because you want to be able to know at a glance what is in there. It doesn’t have a lid because there will come a time when the tools will spontaenously make themselves available without you even thinking about them. There are are no trays or drawers, boxes or bags for like Buddhist philosophy itself our toolbox needs to be dynamic with what is useful near the top and what is not useful able to go to the bottom. Place it on the ground in front of you. When you open the toolbox you’ll find there is a lot of stuff already in it. What kind of tools might be found laying on top? They’ll be the tools you put to use each day. Each of us has tools. You collect them from every experience you have and every person you meet. There are necessary ones and the ones you have become comfortable using even if they aren’t that productive. These tools are the dispositions and habits that you view the world through and that you use to interact with it.
Think of meditation as the inventory process for your toolbox. The mindfulness and awareness that is developed allows us, if you engage in rigorous self-honesty to know what you have to work with to start. For the most part it will be an eclectic mix of dispositions, knowledge, emotions, habits, experiences and desires, all that are unique expressions of you. These are the tools you already use, some frequently, others not frequently enough. There are tools that could use a good polishing, some need to be discarded, and others need replacing with updated ones.
Here are examples of tools you may find in there and tools that Buddhist practice can help develop or discard:
awareness — mindfulness — compassion — altruism — greed — hatred — anger — joy — humor — humor — skepticism — agnosticism — insight — discontent — depression — giddiness — action — pluralism — engagement — desire — attachment — skillfulness — acceptance — fear — procrastination — selfishness — selflessness — calm — anxiety
There are “manuals” (Four Ennobling Truths, Eightfold Path, Three Characteristics of Existence for ex.) that can be referred to whenever you are choosing which tool to use or whether or not a tool is even valuable enough to keep. Remember earlier I said, “. . . there will come a time when the tools will spontaenously make themselves available without you even thinking about.” With practice and experience using the “manuals” you will find the encompassing and corrective tools are just there, right at your fingertips when needed. Spontaneity results from practice and effort, it just seems effortless.
Life is the most important job a human being has. Living life as it is, rather than as you might want it to be takes a well stocked toolbox. You stock it with tools we get from your teacher/mentor, with tools you gain through experience, tools that you learn about from the experiences of others. It is up to you to determine how effectual each tool is for different situations with a tool called experiential verification. One of the most daunting lessons to learn in Buddhism is to be mindful that a tool that worked in one situation may not work in a similar situation. Like Batchelor tells us, Buddhist philosophy and practice is not dogmatic, its guidance is meant to be flexible in a dynamic world.
The value of a Buddhist toolbox lies in its tools being flexible and dynamic. What sets it apart from other “toolboxes” is that you are responsible for choosing the encompassing and corrective tool in each situation. Buddhism is an action philosophy and practice.