from Rebel Buddha, Chapter 6 “Relating with Confusion,” p. 64
The idea of training and self-improvement is part of the fabric of Western culture. We are doing it all the time, in one way or another. Our training begins in our family life, and continues in our school and work lives. We learn basic knowledge and skills, such as how to behave in a social setting. Once we’ve learned the fundamentals, they become the foundation for developing our own path in life. We may not think of this ordinary training we go through as a “path” in the same way that we view our spiritual path, but we do recognize that any goal is preceded by the path that gets us there. You don’t get to where you want to go just by pointing to a spot on a map. You don’t become a doctor just by saying, “I want to be a doctor.”
Basic training on the Buddhist path involves working with our whole being—body, speech and mind. Nothing is left out. Our training in life covers the same territory. To train our body, we may go to the gym, take dance classes, learn yoga and follow a healthy diet. If we want to run a marathon, become a ballet dancer, or be an Olympic swimmer, then we can take our physical training much further.
Training in speech starts with the basic language skills we learn, which then become the means for self-expression and communication. Everything we do is affected by our speech. It is how we form relationships, pass along information and express our feelings. We need to know how to use it to say everything from “hello” to “goodbye”—especially the simplest things, like “I love you” and “I’m sorry.” There is a whole industry in the West devoted to improving communication skills. A standard question on job applications asks you to rate your communication skills, and if you are in doubt about yours, you can ask your partner, who will probably be happy to tell you how you’re doing in that area.
Training the mind involves both accumulating knowledge about our world and learning how to think clearly and critically. These are universal goals of our educational system. Once we are armed with knowledge and reason, we can see problems and solve them. We can recognize opportunities and take advantage of them. We have the means to understand our world and find a meaningful place in it.
What happens when we don’t have this training? We are at a disadvantage in every aspect of our life. When we do have it, then body, speech and mind become better functioning and more useful tools to help us achieve our goals. They work for us, and not against our happiness.