Buddhism starts off simply with the 4 Noble Truths and then gets much more complex, introducing things like the 8-Fold Path, 3 Marks of Existence, 12-Point Chain of Dependent Origination, 4 (or 9?) Jhanas, 5 Skhandas, 5 Hinderances, and much more. This complexity irks me as it means more chances of missing the point, messing up practice and getting overwhelmed.
Furthermore, I find teachings on “no-self” (anatta) confusing or irrelevant. For instance, what does it mean to say all things exhibit anatta when such things include inanimate objects like rocks? Why would I even care? Why tell me I can’t find a self in a sensation when I never thought I would anyway?
Hence, I seek simplification. Unfortunately, time, place and competing agendas have all shaped Buddhism so that many of the teachings and practices seem to contradict. Therefore, I don’t try to find a unifying principle for Buddhism and instead seek a subset sufficient for a complete practice in itself.
This subset should avoid the supernatural (no gods, past lives, karma, etc…). It should remain firmly within psychology — addressing a psychological problem (suffering) with a psychological solution (mental practices designed to ease the thought patterns that lead to suffering). As a practical matter, it should yield results within a relatively short period of time (not overnight, but certainly not over years). With that in mind, the following fits the bill: Nothing whatsoever should be clung to as me or mine.
This teaches an attitude or a way of experiencing designed to reduce my dissatisfaction. This way of experiencing requires viewing all things — sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings, insults, etc… — impersonally, like I would watch clouds in the sky. Yes, I view even “personal” things like thoughts impersonally. I take the stance of a passive, neutral, detached observer and observe all these things come and go, never trying to flee or hold on to any of them, never thinking that I own any of them or that any of them define me.
In this view, anatta specifies an impersonal way of experiencing, and not a claim about the nature of things. The anatta of impersonal objects (like rocks) and sensations prescribes the attitude with which I perceive them. Deconstruction (via labeling or Skhandas for instance) aids in this observation in the same way that knowing a magic trick aids in dispelling the illusion of the trick.
Meditation improves my skill in this impersonal perception.
“Right action” covers all of my life, not just the parts with moral import. Further, it says nothing about morality; rather, “right” prescribes acting from an impersonal attitude. I take an impersonal view of past hurts, grudges, preferences, my agency (ownership of action), praise, blame, the results of my actions, etc… I act based on the dictates of the situation and always with an impersonal attitude, in which I cling to nothing as me or mine. Granted, these actions often lead to a higher standard of moral behavior by removing the motivations to be immoral, but that’s a happy coincidence, not the point.
Nirvana vanishes as a goal. Rather, I live in greater or lesser degrees of Nirvana, depending on the extent to which I takes things impersonally.