It’s difficult to say “Buddhism is this, therefore it should be like that” or to summarize it in a simplistic way because people have a wide variety of views of what Buddhism is.
However, I can say that Buddhism is not what most people consider to be a religion.
First of all, when we study Buddhism we’re also studying ourselves—the nature of our body, speech and mind—the main emphasis being on the nature of our mind and how it works in everyday life. The main topic is not something else like what is Buddha or what is the nature of God or anything like that.
Why is it so important to know the nature of our own mind? It is because we all want happiness, enjoyment, peace and satisfaction. These experiences do not come from ice cream but from wisdom and the mind, so we have to understand what the mind is and how it works.
One thing about Buddhism is that it’s simple and practical; it explains logically how satisfaction comes from the mind and not from some kind of supernatural being in whom we have to believe.
I understand that this idea can be difficult to accept. As a westerner, from the moment you’re born, there’s extreme emphasis on the belief that the source of happiness resides outside of yourself in external objects.
Therefore your sense perception and consciousness have an almost fanatical orientation toward the sense world and you come to value external objects above all else, even your life. This extreme view that over-values material things is a misconception. It is the result of unreasonable and illogical thought.
If you want true peace, happiness and joy, you need to realize that happiness and satisfaction come from within you and stop searching for it so obsessively outside yourself.
You can never find real happiness out there. Do you know anyone who has?
From the moment they evolved, humans have never found true happiness in the external world, even though modern scientific technology seems to think that that’s where the solution to human happiness lies. That’s a totally wrong conception. Of course, technology is necessary and good, but it has to be used skillfully.
Religion is not against technology nor is external development contrary to the practice of religion, even though we do find religious extremists who oppose material development and scientific advancement and non-believers pitted against those who believe. All such fanatics are wrong.
First, let me ask a question. Where in the world can we find somebody who doesn’t believe? Who among us is a true non-believer? In asking this I’m not necessarily referring to conceptual belief. The person who says “I don’t believe” thinks he’s intellectually superior, but all you have to do to puncture his pride is ask a couple of simple questions: “What do you like? What don’t you like?” He’ll come up with a hundred likes and dislikes. “Why do you like those things? Why don’t you like the others?” Questions like those immediately expose all of us as believers.
To live in harmony we have to balance external and internal development. Failure to do so simply leads to mental conflict and restless states of mind.
Buddhism finds no contradiction in advocating external scientific and inner mental development. Both are correct, but depending on mental attitude, each can be positive or negative as well. There’s no such thing as absolute, eternally existent, total positivity or absolute, eternally existent, total negativity. Positive and negative actions are defined mainly by the motivation that gives rise to them not by the actions themselves.
This is why it’s important to avoid extreme views. Extreme emotional attachment to sense objects—“This is good. This makes me happy”—only leads to mental illness. What we need to learn instead is how to remain in the middle, between the extremes of exaggeration and underestimation.
That doesn’t mean that you need to give everything up. You don’t have to get rid of all your possessions. It’s extreme emotional attachment to any object— external or internal—that makes you mentally ill and that’s what you have to abandon.
Western medicine has few answers to that kind of sickness. There’s nothing you can take and it’s hard to cure. Psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists–I doubt that they can solve the problems of attachment. Most of you have probably experienced it. Attachment and the lack of knowledge and wisdom that underlies it are the actual problem.
The reason that Western health professionals can’t treat attachment effectively is that they don’t know how to investigate the reality of the mind. The function of attachment is to bring frustration and misery. We all know this and it’s not that difficult to grasp. In fact, it’s rather simple. But Buddhism has a method of revealing the psychology of attachment and how it works in everyday life. That method is meditation.
Excessive concern for your own comfort and pleasure driven by the exaggerations of attachment automatically leads to feelings of hatred for others. These two incompatible feelings—attachment and hatred—naturally clash in your mind. From the Buddhist point of view, a mind in this kind of conflict is sick and unbalanced.
Going to church or temple once a week is not enough to deal with this. You have to examine your mind all day every day and maintain constant awareness of the way you speak and act.
We usually hurt others unconsciously. In order to observe the actions of our unconscious mind we need to develop powerful wisdom energy, but that’s easier said than done. It takes work to be constantly aware of what’s going on in the mind.
Most religious and non-religious people agree that practicing love and kindness for others is important. How do we develop love and kindness? First we have to understand how and why others suffer, what the best kind of happiness is for them and how they can get it. That’s what we have to investigate, but our emotions get the better of us.
We project our attachments onto others. We think that others like the same things we do, that people’s main problems are hunger and thirst and that food and water are the solution.
The human problem is not hunger and thirst; it’s misconception and mental pollution.
It’s important that you make your mind clear. If you can, the ups and downs of the external world won’t bother you. No matter what happens out there, your mind will remain peaceful and joyous.
If you get too caught up in watching the up and down world you end up going up and down yourself. “Oh, that’s so good! Oh, that’s so bad!” If the outer world is your only source of happiness, its natural fluctuations constantly disturb your peace of mind and you can never be happy. No matter how long you live, it’s impossible.
But if you understand that the world is up and down by nature and expect things to fluctuate, you won’t get upset when they do and as a result your mind will be balanced and peaceful. Whenever your mind is balanced and peaceful you have wisdom and control.
Perhaps you think, “Oh, control! Buddhism is all about control. Who wants control? That’s a Himalayan trip, not a Western one.” But in our experience, control is natural. When you have the wisdom that knows how the uncontrolled mind functions and where it comes from, control comes naturally.
All people have equal potential to control and develop their mind. There’s no distinction according to race, color or nationality. Equally, all can experience mental peace and joy.
Human ability is great and if you use it with wisdom, it’s worthwhile. If you use it with ignorance and emotional attachment, you waste your life. Be careful.
Lord Buddha’s teaching strongly emphasizes understanding over the hallucinated fantasies of the ordinary mind. The emotional projections and hallucinations that arise from unrealistic perceptions are wrong conceptions and as long as your mind is polluted by wrong conceptions you will always be frustrated.
The clean and clear mind is simultaneously joyful, that’s simple to see. When your mind is under the control of extreme attachment on one side and extreme hatred on the other, you have to examine it to see why you grasp at happiness and why you hate.
When you check your objects of attachment and hatred logically, you’ll see that the fundamental reason for these contrary emotions is basically the same thing–emotional attachment and emotional hatred project a hallucinatory object. Either way, you believe in the hallucination.
As I said before, it’s not about an intellectual, “Oh, yes, I believe.” Just saying you believe in something doesn’t actually mean you do. However, belief has deep roots in your subconscious and as long as you’re under the influence of attachment, you’re a believer. Belief doesn’t necessarily have to be in something supernatural or beyond logic. There are many ways to believe.
From the standpoint of Buddhist psychology, in order to have love and compassion for all living beings you first have to develop equilibrium—a feeling that all beings are equal. This is not a radical sort of “I have a piece of candy. I need to cut it up and share it with everybody else,” but rather something you have to work with in your mind. A mind out of balance is an unhealthy mind.
So equalizing sentient beings is not something we do externally, that’s impossible. The equality advocated by Buddhists is completely different from that which the communists talk about. Ours is the inner balance derived from training the mind.
When your mind is even and balanced, you can generate loving kindness for all beings in the universe without discrimination. At the same time, emotional attachment automatically decreases. If you have the right method, it’s not difficult; when right method and right wisdom come together, solving problems is easy.
But we humans suffer from a shortage of intensive knowledge and wisdom. We search for happiness where it doesn’t exist. It’s here, but we’re looking over there.
It’s actually very simple–true peace, happiness and joy lie within you and if you meditate correctly and investigate the nature of your mind you can discover the everlasting happiness and joy within. They’re always with you; they’re mental energy, not external material energy, which always fizzles out.
Mental energy coupled with right method and right wisdom is unlimited and always with you. That’s incredible! And it explains why human beings are so powerful.
Materialists think that people are powerful because of the amazing buildings and so forth that they construct but all that actually comes from the human mind. Without the skill of the human mind there’s no external supermarket. So instead of placing extreme value on regular supermarkets we should try to discover our own internal supermarket. That’s much more useful and leads to a balanced, even mind.
As I mentioned before, it can sound as if Buddhism is telling you to renounce all your possessions because attachment is bad, but renunciation isn’t about physical giving something up. You go to the toilet every day but that doesn’t mean you’re attached to it—you’re not attached to your toilet, are you?
We should have the same attitude towards all of the material things we use and give them a reasonable value according to their usefulness for human existence, not an extreme one.
If a kid runs crazily over dangerous ground to get an apple, trips, falls and breaks his leg, we think he’s foolish for exaggerating the value of the apple and putting his well being at risk for the sake of achieving a tiny goal.
But actually, we’re the same. We exaggerate the beauty of objects of desire and generate extreme attachment toward them, which blinds us to our true potential. This is dangerous. We’re just like the boy who risks his safety for an apple. By looking at objects with emotional attachment and chasing that hallucinated vision we definitely destroy our pure potential.
Human potential is great but we have to use our energy skillfully; we have to know how to put our lives in the right direction. This is extremely important.
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