The study of Buddhism is not a dry, intellectual undertaking or the skeptical analysis of some religious, philosophical doctrine.
On the contrary, when you study Dharma and learn how to meditate, you are the main topic; you are mainly interested in your own mind, your own true nature.
Buddhism is a method for controlling the undisciplined mind in order to lead it from suffering to happiness. At the moment, we all have an undisciplined mind, but if we can develop a correct understanding of its characteristic nature, control will follow naturally and we’ll be able to release emotional ignorance and the suffering it brings automatically. Therefore, no matter whether you are a believer or a non-believer, religious or not religious, a Christian, a Hindu, or a scientist, black or white, an Easterner or a Westerner, the most important thing to know is your own mind and how it works.
Even though you might say you’re a practitioner of this or that religion, if you investigate more deeply, you might find that you are nowhere. Be careful. No religion is against your knowing your own nature, but all too frequently religious people involve themselves too much in their religion’s history, philosophy or doctrine and ignore how and what they themselves are, their present state of being.
Instead of using their religion to attain its goals—salvation, liberation, inner freedom, eternal happiness and joy—they play intellectual games with their religion, as if it were a material possession.
Without understanding how your inner nature evolves, how can you possibly discover eternal happiness? Where is eternal happiness? It’s not in the sky or in the jungle; you won’t find it in the air or under the ground. Everlasting happiness is within you, within your psyche, your consciousness, your mind. That’s why it is so important that you investigate the nature of your own mind.
If the religious theory that you learn does not serve to bring happiness and joy into your everyday life, what’s the point? Even though you say, “I’m a practitioner of this or that religion,” check what you’ve done, how you’ve acted, and what you’ve discovered since you’ve been following it. And don’t be afraid to question yourself in detail. Your own experience is good. It is essential to question everything you do, otherwise, how do you know what you’re doing? As I’m sure you know already, blind faith in any religion can never solve your problems.
Many people are lackadaisical about their spiritual practice. “It’s easy. I go to church every week. That’s enough for me.” That’s not the answer. What’s the purpose of your religion? Are you getting the answers you need or is your practice simply a joke? You have to check. I’m not putting anybody down, but you have to be sure of what you’re doing. Is your practice perverted, polluted by hallucination, or is it realistic?
If your path teaches you to act and exert yourself correctly and leads to spiritual realizations such as love, compassion and wisdom, then obviously it’s worthwhile. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time.
The mental pollution of misconceptions is far more dangerous than drugs. Wrong ideas and faulty practice get deeply rooted in your mind, build up during your life, and accompany your mind into the next one. That is much more dangerous than some physical substance.
All of us, the religious and the non-religious, Easterner and Westerner alike, want to be happy. Everybody seeks happiness, but are you looking in the right place? Perhaps happiness is here but you’re looking there. Make sure you seek happiness where it can be found.
We consider Lord Buddha’s teaching to be more akin to psychology and philosophy than to what you might usually imagine religion to be. Many people seem to think that religion is mostly a question of belief, but if your religious practice relies mainly on faith, sometimes one skeptical question from a friend—“What on earth are you doing?”—can shatter it completely: “Oh my god! Everything I’ve been doing is wrong.” Therefore, before you commit yourself to any spiritual path, make sure you know exactly what you’re doing.
Buddhist psychology teaches that emotional attachment to the sense world results from physical and mental feelings. Your five senses provide information to your mind, producing various feelings, all of which can be classified into three groups: pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. These feelings arise in response to either physical or mental stimuli.
When we experience pleasant feelings, emotional attachment ensues, and when that pleasant feeling subsides, craving arises, the desire to experience it again. The nature of this mind is dissatisfaction; it disturbs our mental peace because its nature is agitation.
When we experience unpleasant feelings, we automatically dislike and want to get rid of them; aversion arises, again disturbing our mental peace. When we feel neutral, we ignore what’s going on and don’t want to see reality.
Thus, whatever feelings arise in our daily lives—pleasant, unpleasant or neutral—they disturb us emotionally and there’s no balance or equanimity in our minds.
So, examining your own feelings in this way has nothing to do with belief, has it? This is not some Eastern, Himalayan mountain thing. This is you; this is your thing. You can’t refute what I’m saying by claiming, “I have no feelings.” It’s so simple, isn’t it?
Furthermore, many of our negative actions are reactions to feeling. See for yourself. When you feel pleasant as a result of contact with people or other sense objects, analyze exactly how you feel, why you feel pleasant. The pleasant feeling is not in the external object, is it? It’s in your mind.
I’m sure we can all agree that the pleasant feeling is not outside of you. So, why do you feel that way? If you experiment like this, you will discover that happiness and joy, discomfort and unhappiness, and neutral feelings are all within you. You will find that you yourself are mainly responsible for the feelings you experience and that you cannot blame others for the way you feel: “He makes me miserable; she makes me miserable; that stuff makes me miserable.” You cannot blame society for your problems, although that’s what we always do, isn’t it? It’s not realistic.
Once you realize the true evolution of your mental problems, you’ll never blame any other living being for how you feel. That realization is the beginning of good communication with and respect for others. Normally, we’re unconscious; we act unconsciously and automatically disrespect and hurt others.
We don’t care; we just do it, that’s all.
Many people, even some psychologists, seem to think that you can stop the emotion of craving-desire by feeding it with some object or other: if you’re suffering because your husband or wife has left you, getting another one will solve your problem. That’s impossible.
Without understanding the characteristic nature of your feelings of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, you will never discover the nature of your mental attitudes, and without discovering that, you can never put an end to your emotional problems.
For instance, Buddhism says you should feel compassion and love for all living beings.
How can you possibly feel even equanimity for all beings while the ignorant, dualistic mind is functioning so strongly within you? You can’t, because emotionally you are too extreme. When you feel happy because a pleasant feeling has arisen through contact with a particular object, you grossly exaggerate what you consider to be the good qualities of that object, inflating your emotions as much as you possibly can. But you know that your mind can’t stay up like that. It’s impermanent, transitory, so of course, you soon crash back down. Then, automatically, your unbalanced mind gets de-pressed. You have to understand exactly how much energy you expend in pursuit of or in flight from mental feelings. We are always too extreme; we have to find the middle way.
If you look a little deeper, you will also find that feelings are responsible for all the conflict in the world. From two small children fighting over a piece of candy to two huge nations fighting over their very existence—what are they fighting for? For pleasant feelings. Even children too young to speak will fight because they want to feel happy.
Through meditation you can easily see the truth of all this. Meditation reveals everything that’s in your mind: all your garbage, all your positivity; everything can be seen through meditation.
But don’t think that meditation means just sitting on the floor in the lotus position doing nothing. Being conscious, aware of everything that you do—walking, eating, drinking, talking—is meditation. The sooner you realize this, the quicker will you realize that you yourself are responsible for your actions, that you yourself are responsible for the happy feelings you want and the unhappy feelings you don’t, and that nobody else controls you.
When a pleasant feeling arises and then, as is its nature, subsides, causing you to feel frustrated because you want it again, that’s not created by God, Krishna, Buddha or any other outside entity. Your own actions are responsible. Isn’t that easy to see? The weak mind thinks, “Oh, he made me sick, she makes me feel horrible.” That’s the weak mind at work, always trying to blame somebody or something else.
Actually, I think that examining your everyday life experiences to see how your physical and mental feelings arise is a wonderful thing to do. You’re learning all the time; there’s no such time that you’re not learning. In that way, through the application of your own know-ledge-wisdom, you will discover that the realization of everlasting peace and joy is within you. Unfortunately, the weak mind doesn’t possess much knowledge-wisdom energy; you have to nurture that energy within your own mind.
Why does Mahayana Buddhism teach us to develop a feeling of equanimity for all sentient beings?
We often choose just one small thing, one small atom, one single living being, thinking, “This is the one for me; this is the best.” Thus, we create extremes of value: we grossly exaggerate the value of the one we like and engender disdain for all the rest. This is not good for you, for your mental peace. Instead, you should examine your behavior, “Why am I doing this? My unrealistic, egocentric mind is polluting my consciousness.”
By meditating on equanimity—all sentient beings are exactly the same in wanting happiness and not desiring suffering—you can learn to eliminate the extremes of tremendous attachment to one and tremendous aversion to the other. In this way you can easily keep your mind balanced and healthy. Many people have had this experience.
Therefore, Lord Buddha’s psychology can be of great help when you’re trying to deal with the frustrations that disturb your daily life. Remember that when pleasant feelings arise, desire, craving and attachment follow in their wake; when unpleasant feelings arise, aversion and hatred appear; and when you feel neutral, ignorance, blindness to reality, occupies your mind. If, through these teachings, you can learn the reality of how your feelings arise and how you react to them, your life will be much improved and you will experience much happiness, peace and joy.
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Assist: Sara Crolick/Ed: Bryonie Wise