Some preliminary mental training is required to be able to see the real problem and treat it successfully: training in mindfulness (sati-sampajañña). The Buddha says:
In a person with right mindfulness, wrong mindfulness is abolished. The many evil, unskillful qualities that come into play with wrong mindfulness as their condition are also abolished, while the many skillful qualities that have right mindfulness as their condition go to the culmination of their development. — Mahā-cattarisaka Sutta (Majjhima-Nikāya 117)
Right mindfulness is based on the concept of Being. To attain right mindfulness, we need some background in the understanding of Being used in the Buddha’s teaching.
Every one of us is a human being. But what is Being, and how do we talk about it? How do we work on our Being, or change our Being, and what kind of tools do we need? First of all, we need a language of Being, and knowledge of Being. Then we can address the other questions.
It’s strange that we are all beings, yet our language and consequently, our knowledge of Being are very limited. We all eat, and have a rich language concerning food. It’s easy to talk about eating. But although we are all beings, we do not have much language concerned with Being. So it’s not as easy to talk about Being as it is to talk about food. Why is that?
The conventional conception of Being is something we learn in childhood. We are given a language that is very good for talking about having and doing, merely adequate for talking about thinking and knowing, and almost useless when it comes to talking about Being.
This language teaches us that Being comes from having, doing, thinking, and knowing. This is not only wrong; it makes changing our Being impossible. Thus we are disempowered and lose sovereignty over our own Being.
This makes Being seem very far away, something only for philosophers and specialists, a part of the curriculum of graduate or even postgraduate education. Our educational system is designed to keep knowledge of Being hidden from the average human being. No wonder we have so many confusions and doubts about Being.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Like eating, Being concerns us all. There is no structural reason that knowledge of Being has to be hidden away, artificially made difficult and esoteric. Knowledge of Being is actually common sense. It can and should be accessible to everyone.
Let’s look at Being in the conception of ontics and ontology, the main branches of the science of Being. The Ontic/Ontological Conception is used in the Buddha’s teaching. Its basic structural assumptions are exactly opposite to modern education and language.
First of all, we have to be, to exist. Only then can we develop knowing—sensing information about our world. We put that information in order by thinking about it. Once we understand, then we can start doing. And by doing, we can create or acquire the things we need for having.
Being is not such a difficult subject when we approach it properly. However, the conventional conception taught in school is backwards. No wonder we have difficulty understanding Being. And if we try to approach the Buddha’s teaching with the conventional conception of Being, we will fail both to understand and apply it successfully.