This book is about inner harmony and the actions we all must take—the cravings we should stop, the aversions we should release, the biased views we should let go—in order to allow the spontaneous appearance of inner harmony in our lives. We must not run after inner harmony; instead, we should remove all the barriers that block its entrance; our actions do not aim at attaining inner harmony but at eliminating its foes—cravings, aversions and biased views.
The essential ideas and framework of what is being presented henceforth come from two fields of knowledge, twenty-five centuries apart that individually and complementarily may assist inquisitive people in their mind-opening process. The first one, the practical side, consists of the well-documented teachings of a sixth century BC Indian sage, Siddhattha Gotama, better known as the Buddha, one of the first thinkers in history to discuss human suffering—the opposite of inner harmony—and to develop a strategy to eliminate such suffering.
The second source is the approach to social sciences known as evolutionary psychology, the application of evolutionary principles to the understanding of the human mind. According to evolutionary psychology, the mental traits of human beings are adaptations designed by natural selection in very much the same way as biological traits evolved in all living creatures. In other words, the evolution of mental qualities is an extension of the evolution of life.
Evolutionary psychology, the theoretical side, does not offer recommendations on the stopping of cravings, aversions or biased views. The reason to lean on some notions of evolutionary psychology is different. The evolution of pleasure’s memories into appetites-cravings and of pain’s memories into fears-aversions explains the nature of suffering, as the Buddha intuitively understood it. Neither Siddhattha Gotama nor any other person until Charles Darwin twenty-three centuries later had any hint about biological evolution or natural selection. However, the extraordinary insight of the Buddha allowed the Sage to develop his strategy to reduce and eventually eliminate human suffering.
Regarding the first source, the Buddha’s teachings (the teachings, for short) are wonderful guides for living; for this reason, the Buddha’s discourses are quoted extensively. Still this book is by no means about Buddhism and it cannot be so because some of its interpretations of the Buddha’s thought deviate from what is generally accepted by Buddhist scholars.
The distance between this book and Buddhism is stretched out to even wider distances. Experiencing inner harmony does not require affiliation with any creed or endorsement from any religion, Buddhist or otherwise. Students need neither abandon their beliefs (religious or metaphysical of any kind) nor hold to them, whatever they are; beliefs are irrelevant and unrelated to the practices here recommended. This book is all about the application of common sense and has nothing to do with subscribing to or leaving behind any faith system.
The primary goal in this writing is to persuade readers about the soundness and logic of its contents. A more ambitious objective would be to motivate students enough so that they start practicing mindfulness meditation, an aspiration that is obviously more difficult to materialize because it demands the commitment of each individual. This author does hope, however, that effectively achieving the persuasive portion will push readers to undertake meditation of their own accord.
Besides the teachings and evolutionary sciences, there is a third component with strong influence on the book’s content, namely the writer’s own application of the Buddha’s recommendations. Studying the teachings or learning evolutionary psychology is rational knowledge that people can gain from texts or courses; the Sage emphasizes, however, that simply repeating (with no action) what we have read or learned by heart is as “counting the sheep of somebody else’s herd” (or listing the merchandise of somebody else’s store). This author knows the truth of what is here because of his direct experience with it; he understands that the application of the teachings does produce wholesome results, in direct proportion to zeal and perseverance. This realization became a driving force in the undertaking of this work.
But the experience of other people, however useful for them, is useless for the reader. This fact drives the writer to address the final emphasis of this foreword from the reader’s side of the coin (as opposed to his own perspective). Though the wisdom of the teachings and the soundness of its practices are categorical, it is only through personal actions and real results that advice and discourse become truth for anyone. Only direct experience and actual observed benefits convince individuals about the effectiveness and profit of any procedure.
At times, this author refers to what is being presented here as Pragmatic Buddhism. For pragmatics, truth is what produces positive outcomes; whatever does not do so is wrong, false or questionable. Therefore, the teachings will only become true for people when they work for them as expected; not getting what a person anticipated from the application of a certain doctrine will make such doctrine false. Pragmatic Buddhism is exclusively personal and practical.
With much eloquence, the Buddha transmitted the direct-experience message to his contemporaries in a declaration that scholars commonly call “The Charter of Free Inquiry.” This is one of the best-known statements of Buddhist literature: “Do not accept anything because it is either tradition, generally accepted, written in some scriptures, based on logical reasoning, agreeable with your way of thinking or the word of a well-known master. It is only when you know for yourselves that some teachings are wholesome, and that, when followed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and inner harmony, that you should accept them, and live and act accordingly."