When we study Buddhism, we are studying ourselves—the nature of our own minds.
Instead of focusing on some supreme being, Buddhism emphasizes more practical matters, such as how to lead our lives, how to integrate our minds and how to keep our everyday lives peaceful and healthy. Buddhism accentuates experiential knowledge—in other words, wisdom rather than some dogmatic view. In fact, we don’t even consider Buddhism to be a religion in the usual sense of the term. From the lamas’ point of view, Buddhist teachings are more in the realm of philosophy, science or psychology.
The human mind instinctively seeks happiness. East, West—there’s no difference; everybody’s doing the same thing.
If the search for happiness causes a person to grasp emotionally at the sense world, it can be very dangerous. They have no control.
Now, don’t think that control is an Eastern thing, a Buddhist thing. We all need control, especially those of us caught up in the materialistic life; psychologically, emotionally, we’re too involved in objects of attachment. From the Buddhist point of view, that’s an unhealthy mind; the person is mentally ill.
We actually already know that external, scientific technological development alone cannot satisfy the desires of our attachment or solve our other emotional problems. But what Lord Buddha’s teaching shows us is the characteristic nature of human potential: the capacity of the human mind. When we study Buddhism, we learn what we are and how to develop further, instead of emphasizing some kind of supernatural belief system.
Whether a person is religious or a materialist, a believer or an atheist, it is crucial that they know how their own mind works. If they don’t, they’ll go around thinking they’re healthy, when in reality, the deep root of afflictive emotions—the true cause of all psychological disease—is there, growing within them. Because of that, all it takes is some tiny external thing changing, something insignificant going wrong, and within a few seconds, they’re completely upset. To me, that shows they’re mentally ill. Why? Because they’re obsessed with the sense world, blinded by attachment, and under the control of the fundamental cause of all problems, not knowing the nature of their own mind.
This is not a question of belief. No matter how much a person says, “I don’t believe I have a nose,” their nose is still there, right between their eyes.
Your nose is always there, whether you believe it or not.
I’ve met many people who proudly proclaim, “I’m not a believer.” They’re so proud of their professed lack of belief in anything. But no matter what a person thinks, they still need to know the characteristic nature of their own mind. If they don’t, then no matter how much they talk about the shortcomings of attachment, they have no idea what attachment actually is or how to control it. Words are easy. What’s really difficult is to understand the true nature of attachment.
For example, when people first made cars and planes, their intention was to be able to do things more quickly so that they’d have more time for rest. But what’s happened instead is that people are more restless than ever. We must examine own everyday life. Because of attachment, we get emotionally involved in a concrete sense world of our own creation, denying ourselves the space or time to see the reality of our own mind. To me, that’s the very definition of a difficult life. We cannot find satisfaction or enjoyment. The truth is that pleasure and joy actually come from the mind, not from objective phenomena.
Nevertheless, some intelligent, skeptical people do understand to a degree that material objects do not guarantee a worthwhile, enjoyable life and are trying to see if there really is something else that might offer true satisfaction.
When Lord Buddha spoke about suffering, he wasn’t referring simply to superficial problems like illness and injury, but to the fact that the dissatisfied nature of the mind itself is suffering. No matter how much of something a person gets, it never satisfies their desire for better or more. This unceasing desire is suffering; its nature is emotional frustration.
Buddhist psychology describes six basic emotions that frustrate the human mind, disturbing its peace, making it restless: ignorance, attachment, anger, pride, deluded doubt and distorted views. These are mental attitudes, not external phenomena. Buddhism emphasizes that to overcome these delusions, the root of all suffering, belief and faith are not much help: we have to understand their nature.
If we do not investigate our own mind with introspective knowledge-wisdom, we will never see what’s in there. Without checking, no matter how much we talk about our mind and our emotions, we’ll never really understand that our basic emotion is egocentricity and that this is what’s making you restless.
Now, to overcome our ego, we don’t have to give up all our possessions; they’re not what’s making life difficult. We’re restless because we are clinging to our possessions with attachment; ego and attachment pollute our minds, making them unclear, ignorant and agitated, and prevent the light of wisdom from growing. The solution to this problem is meditation.
Meditation does not imply only the development of single pointed concentration, sitting in some corner doing nothing. Meditation is an alert state of mind, the opposite of sluggishness; meditation is wisdom. A person should remain aware every moment of their daily life, fully conscious of what they are doing and why and how they are doing it.
We do almost everything unconsciously. We eat unconsciously; we drink unconsciously; we talk unconsciously. Although we claim to be conscious, we are completely unaware of the afflictions rampaging through our minds, influencing everything we do.
This is how Buddhism works: it gives a person ideas that they can check out in their own experience to see if they’re true or not. It’s very down-to-earth.
I’m not talking about something way up there in the sky. It’s actually a very simple thing.
If we don’t know the characteristic nature of attachment and its objects, how can we generate loving kindness towards our friends, our parents or our country? From the Buddhist point of view, it’s impossible. When we hurt our parents or our friends, it’s our unconscious mind at work. When acting out his anger, the angry person is completely oblivious as to what’s happening in his mind. Being unconscious makes us hurt and disrespect other sentient beings; being unaware of our own behavior and mental attitude makes us lose our humanity. That’s all. It’s so simple, isn’t it?
These days, people study and train to become psychologists. Lord Buddha’s idea is that everybody should become a psychologist. Each of us should know our own mind; a person should be their own psychologist. This is definitely possible; every human being has the ability to understand his or her own mind. When we understand our own mind, control follows naturally.
Don’t think that control is just some Himalayan trip or that it must be easier for people who don’t have many possessions. That’s not necessarily true. Next time we are emotionally upset, we should check for ourselves. Instead of busily doing something to distract ourselves, can we relax and try to become aware of what we’re doing? We should ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this? How am I doing it? What’s the cause?” We will find this to be a wonderful experience. Our main problem is a lack of intensive knowledge-wisdom, awareness, or consciousness. Therefore, we will discover that through understanding, we can easily solve our problems.
To feel loving kindness for others, we have to know the nature of the object. If we don’t, then even though we say, “I love him; I love her,” it’s just our arrogant mind taking us on yet another ego trip. It is very important that we become our own psychologist. Then we can treat ourselves through the understanding wisdom of our own mind; we’ll be able to relax with and enjoy our friends and possessions instead of becoming restless and berserk and wasting our lives.
To become their own psychologist, a person doesn’t have to learn some big philosophy. All they have to do is examine their own mind every day.
We already examine material things every day—every morning we check out the food in our kitchen—but we never investigate our mind. Checking our mind is much more important.
Nevertheless, most people seem to believe the opposite. They seem to think that they can simply buy the solution to whatever problem they’re facing. The materialistic attitude that money can buy whatever a person needs to be happy, that they can purchase a peaceful mind, is obviously not true, but even though we may not say the words, this is what we’re thinking. It’s a complete misconception.
Even people who consider themselves religious need to understand their own minds. Faith alone never stops problems; understanding knowledge-wisdom always does. Lord Buddha himself said that belief in Buddha was dangerous; that instead of just believing in something, people should use their minds to try to discover their own true nature. Belief based on understanding is fine; once you realize or are intellectually clear about something, belief follows automatically.
Faith based on misconceptions can easily be destroyed by what others say.
Unfortunately, even though they consider themselves religious, many spiritually-inclined people are weak. Why? Because they don’t understand the true nature of their mind. If we really know what our mind is and how it works, we’ll understand that it’s mental energy that prevents us from being healthy. When we understand our own mind’s view, or perception, of the world, we’ll realize that not only are we constantly grasping at the sense world, but also that what we’re grasping at is merely imaginary. We will see that we’re too concerned with what’s going to happen in a non-existent future and totally unconscious of the present moment—that we are living for a mere projection. Don’t you agree that a mind that is unconscious in the present and constantly grasping at the future is unhealthy?
It is important to be conscious in everyday life. The nature of conscious awareness and wisdom is peace and joy. We don’t need to grasp at some future resultant joy. As long as we follow the path of right understanding and right action to the best of our ability, the result will be immediate, simultaneous with the action. A person doesn’t have to think, “If I spend my lifetime acting right, perhaps I’ll get some good result in my next life.” We don’t need to obsess over the attainment of future realizations. As long as we act in the present with as much understanding as we possibly can, we’ll realize everlasting peace in no time at all.
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Ed: K. Macku/Kate Bartolotta