Finding Out How Happiness and Sorrow Depend on the Mind
One point to make, when details of any religion are presented and you adopt parts of the religion’s techniques, you do not need to feel obliged to take on the religion.
When I came to the West, His Holiness the Dalai Lama advised me not to go with the intention of converting people to Buddhism. What I am implying is that if you find meditation useful then you can join in with the group here and do meditation, but not necessarily feel you have to be Buddhist to join.
The significance of engaging in meditation is to have a more subdued mind, a calmer and focused mind. If we don’t have a calm mind, that is because our mind is very distracted and this is a result of the mind not being subdued. These distractions cause the mind to feel weary and even depressed. We appear to have formed a habit of allowing our mind to run anywhere it wants, thus we don’t have our minds focused and centred. Initially we can start with a target of fifty percent of the time to not let our minds be completely distracted.
When we pay attention to our state of mind, we see our minds are easily influenced by things around us and occupied with so many distractions. When we investigate internally, it becomes evident that something appears to be lacking within us and we are not content within ourselves.
We may wonder what is wrong with having a distracted mind? When we leave the mind in a distracted, day-dreamy state we come up with all sorts of unrealistic ideas and plans. If these were achievable then we could say it is worthwhile, but these ideas are usually unrealistic, and result in us feeling down and uncomfortable so they are not worthwhile. As a result of our mind being distracted not only is our mind in an unclear and unstable state but this also affects our health, our body feels heavy and health complications can arise.
How can meditation help? The meditation technique is to intentionally withdraw our mind from distraction and focus entirely on the chosen object, then, as our mind gets released from distraction we experience a joyful and peaceful feeling in our mind. Having applied the technique of even a brief meditation, we notice it is possible to bring joy and happiness into our minds. We can all experience this, feeling a sense of joy and calmness in our minds serves the purpose of being human beings. But if distraction dominates our minds and we get into a depressed state, we may wonder ‘what’s the point of being a human being’?
Another important point is that having been introduced to meditation, if we wish to get a rm and stable result we need to practise on a regular basis. If we don’t do this, we will lose the joy and happiness we initially obtained. A short session every day focusing on the meditation object will lead us to feeling joy and happiness more naturally. Begin by sitting in a relaxed, upright and comfortable posture and generate a positive attitude. Reminding ourselves of the real purpose of meditating we make a commitment to withdraw from distractions and begin meditating by focusing on our breath, keeping our mind on the breath.
Some people may be familiar with Buddhist techniques and know that there are other objects to focus on. However, the texts particularly recommend we focus on the breath to settle down the mind when it is distracted with many objects.
When we consider what we are striving for and working towards, whatever goals we have, they all lead up to the goal of being happy and wishing to not have any suffering.
We are all the same in seeking this goal of wishing to achieve happiness, it is a goal of everyone whether rich or poor. Whether we have an abundance of wealth or nothing, whatever culture we may belong to, and whether we have a religion or not or what type of religion we may follow, we are all the same in wishing to experience happiness.
Understanding this brings a deeper understanding of oneself and others. The deeper the understanding we can get from this, all wishing happiness and wanting to be free of every type of pain and suffering, then the more we can relate to others based on our shared common goal. When we recognise everyone is the same in this regard then a real sense of nurturing, care and compassion can come. With that understanding we can begin to really respect others and be concerned for and understand their needs as well. This is not an obscure point but a basic human experience, we all have the sense of clinging to our own interest; we all have the sense of ‘I’ and ‘me’.
In relation to the grasping to a self-identity, grasping to what ‘I’ wish for and don’t wish for, this grasping to our own self-interest leads to the minds of attachment and aversion. We generate attachment towards the things we want and anger towards those we dislike, both these states of mind stem from a strong grasping to ‘I’ and ‘me’. When we consider how these two states of mind function in our lives we see with attachment we get close to some people making them exclusive as ‘my’ friends and relatives. Then with anger there are others that we call ‘enemies’ and to whom we want to distance ourselves from. Due to these states of mind we generate tension and turmoil in our minds.
We can notice, in terms of external conditions, we are not much different to others, but in terms of our experience we do have different experiences that affect our minds. This relates to the earlier point that if our mind is unsubdued then it is in turmoil. A troubled mind is affected by the delusions of attachment and anger. This is what an unsubdued mind means.
The main point to emphasise is if we look into our life, what we are striving for whether we consider ourselves religious or not, or believe in an afterlife or not, what we are striving for is physical and mental well-being. Whatever we want and whatever we do, work, associations et cetera is all to contribute to our well-being. So whatever we do should serve that purpose of contributing to our physical and mental well- being. If we nd at any time we lack physical or mental well-being, then we need to consider what is going wrong? We need to look to see what is causing our lack of physical or mental well-being.
Having considered and accepted that what we need to pay attention to is our physical and mental well-being it is reasonable to ask ‘what are the causes of physical well-being’? Good external conditions do contribute to physical well-being. I advise young people to really put e ort into studying because this enables them to get good physical conditions more easily. Study enables them to get the skills to acquire good physical conditions. Some who I have advised have listened to this and have put it into practice and bene ted. I give this advice with a practical consideration of the young wanting companionship. Too much socializing will take away from their studies so I advise them to ensure that companionship does not obstruct their studies. This can be an issue later in life. As mentioned earlier many of the factors for physical well-being are due to external factors. However we seem to put all of our time and energy in merely acquiring external conditions.
So having put time and energy into acquiring good physical conditions then we come to a point where we do have good physical conditions, but many then feel something is lacking, we are not fully happy. When we look into the real cause of that we see that something is lacking internally. The lack of internal conditions to have joy and happiness is because we don’t know what internal conditions are needed for these. We haven’t paid any attention to this at all. I advise the younger generation to pay attention to the internal conditions needed to be happy and joyful. Ultimately by paying attention and acquiring the necessary internal as well as the external conditions, becomes a real factor to making us happy. Joyful and happy feelings are attributed to our mind so when we look for the causes of these we will see that the causes will also be internal mental causes.
In relation to ourselves as an individual entity it is evident that we have a body, a mind and our speech. We are connected to these three aspects of ourselves all the time, we cannot be separated from them as they are always with us. Atisha, a great Buddhist master, said that within these three attributes of body, speech and mind, the best instruction is to check one’s mind. Master Atisha further said, the best friend for ourselves is mindfulness and introspection, the best instruction is to look at one’s own mind and the best protection is love and compassion for others. Regarding the best instruction to look at one’s own mind, this means doing an internal investigation to understand every thought and emotion within ourselves. When we investigate as to what motivates us to engage in what we do on a physical and a verbal level, we will nd that it is really due to what goes on in our mind. Our physical and verbal actions are the by-product of what goes on in our mind.
If our mind is positive and imbued with kindness and caring, then our physical mannerisms and speech are imbued with kindness. When we have a state of mind imbued with kindness and compassion we experience the positive results for ourselves, and our physical actions and speech that come from that kindness bene ts other. This ensures good results for ourselves and others. When we relate to others with kindness then the natural reaction from others is love. They see our kindness as positive and are drawn to it, and a genuine sense of companionship is fostered. Because of the genuine companionship that it generates, I usually say that fostering a genuine sense of love and compassion will overcome loneliness.
The opposite to having love and compassion in our heart is to fall prey to anger. How does this feel, does anger have a positive effect on us? As we noticed from our own experience with anger and attachment we don’t feel good when we are angry; our mind is troubled, our physical expression is not pleasant, our face is not appealing and our speech is not pleasing when we are in the turmoil of anger. So we see how true it is that when we are in a negative state such as anger it is destructive of our own joy and happiness, and is also destructive for others. The more we become aware of this fact of anger being self-destructive and destroying our joy and happiness, the more we accept anger as a negative emotion. That acknowledgement can diminish the anger within oneself.
There are specific techniques to overcome anger, but if we are not familiar with these, even recognising the destructiveness of anger, just this awareness can reduce anger within ourselves. This is because one generates the intention not to be influenced by anger as it is destructive of one’s own happiness and is destructive to others. When we become angry the unpleasant gestures, unpleasant facial expressions and speech come spontaneously. We can relate to our own experience, when we are angry we don’t have control over what we say or do. Seeing this helps us to understand others and see that they also don’t have control of themselves when they are angry and so we should not blame them due to their anger. This helps us not to be upset with them.
When we really consider these points of how others, in exactly the same way, when under the influence of anger will say and do things uncontrollably, it is with this understanding that we can even develop compassion for our enemies. Understanding that as we want happiness and don’t want suffering then on that basis we can develop love and compassion for others, hence becoming more patient.
I often say when one partner comes home from having a difficult day, it is best not to question them about what is wrong, but rather to encourage them to relax, make dinner, cup of tea for them or suggest they have a shower. This will allow them to let their problems subside. The Buddhist definition of anger is: by focusing on an unappealing object to generate a mind of agitation with an intention to harm the object. So with the earlier example, asking a lot of questions when someone has just come back from a challenging day, would definitely be regarded as unappealing. In contrast, saying soothing words, cooking a meal and suggesting for them to just relax will be very appealing and helps to reduce their agitation, which will prevent them from getting angry.
We can all agree on the point that what we really wish for is happiness. The experience of happiness and joy of good companionship with others is based on developing love and compassion for others, genuine concern for others, this is the contributing factor. Anger and aversion are the damaging factors to the relationship. I’m not suggesting that all anger can be stopped right away, but I am encouraging you to see that anger is destructive to the relationship. So keeping anger in check, is beneficial to the relationship. When anger is expressed from the other’s side and we respond with the like mind of anger then it escalates. Anger cannot be used to combat anger; it doesn’t work that way. Tolerance is what combats anger and so we need to begin practising this with those we consider close and dear.
The main points I am emphasising here is that seeing we do have relationships then what we need to cultivate is genuine love and compassion. This then overrides infatuated attraction. It is the genuine sense of caring, showing love and compassion that helps when times are difficult and someone has problems or difficulties. The person with just an infatuated attraction will not be there when times are difficult. It is genuine caring love and compassion that seeks to help when the other is in difficulties. I am not saying that it is possible to remove all attachment from your relationship, as ordinary beings attachment is a strong element in relationships. What I am suggesting is to cultivate genuine love and compassion as this is the means to develop beneficial companionship. Some people who had relationships but are now separated have confided in me that because the relationship was based on strong attachment and attraction, the relationship didn’t last. But because there was some love and care then even though they have split up and have no desire for each other, due to the caring concern, love and compassion, their relationship seems better now after they had separated.
We will conclude here. I have shared what I feel would be beneficial with a good attitude in my mind, so if you think you can use it in your life, please use it. If you think it is irrelevant then just leave it aside. I have shared with you what I have found useful in my life, so I have shared part of my life with you. I want to thank everyone for making the effort to come along and listen. To summarise, the main point is to implement in life, to extend whatever beneficial help we can to others, not to harm others and to cultivate this attitude in our lives. This attitude will be a good companion in life.