The six causes of our problems, according to Buddhism

the six causes of our problems according to Buddhism

Why do we do the crazy things we do? For our stupidest behavior, we blame bad genes and peer pressure; for the deeds we want to own, we credit a steely sense of purpose or even divine guidance. But a disturbing new force is emerging as a remote driver of our behavior … ~ The Week, March 9 2012

the six causes of our problems according to BuddhismIf we want to get into the driver’s seat and gain control over the direction our life and actions are taking us, it is exceedingly helpful to understand the actual causes of our unpeaceful, uncontrolled states of mind, or so-called delusions, introduced in the last two articles.  Buddha explained these causes to be: (1) the seed, (2) the object, (3) inappropriate attention, (4) familiarity, (5) distraction and being influenced by others, and (6) bad habits. Since these cause our delusions, they also are responsible for our suffering, because there is no suffering without delusions.

But what do we think really causes our delusions and suffering?

“… of our behavior: parasites.” ~ The Week

At the moment we tend to think that happiness comes from out there, and we also think that our problems come from out there. We will generally blame someone, something, anyone, anything, rather than our own states of mind. Even parasites!

what really causes our problems, parasites?A recent story in The Atlantic lays out the chilling case that a microbe called Toxoplasma gondii has infested the brains of as many as 20 per cent of Americans (and 55 per cent of  French people), refashioning neural connections to make us more fearless, more prone to schizophrenia, and – not incidentally – better disposed to cats, in whose guts the parasites reproduce. ~ The Week

Anything that makes 55 percent of my French relatives better disposed to cats is fine by me; however I am quoting this only to show how creative we are at finding new sources for all our woes.

Here’s a simple illustration of casting around outside for something on which to blame our own states of mind. We’re sitting here peacefully reading this article, but now someone walks into the room – someone we are finding a little irritating of late, or with whom we have a complicated relationship. They don’t do a single thing, but they ignore us, and we start to get annoyed. Then they go out again. Our mind starts to calm down.

Let’s analyze this

what causes my problems?Let’s analyze this. Who or what caused that mind of irritation? Usually we’ll say to ourselves something like: “So and so just walked into the room, ignored me, as usual, and then walked out again. He is always ignoring me! That is, when he’s not criticizing me. And he never puts out the garbage, it’s always left to me. What did I ever see in him?” There’s this fantasy playing out. We’ve managed to (re)write the whole history of this person in an astonishingly short period of time – they walked in with the record of past grievances stamped on their forehead.

Maybe they’re just coming into the room to get a pen, or something. Perhaps they’re not ignoring us, they are simply preoccupied with some pressing matter, or don’t want to disturb our peaceful reading. They could be thinking all sorts of things. But we don’t take any of that into account. They walk in, they’re irritating already, and then they ignore us again; and that gets added to the catalog of grievances that they’ve inflicted on us since time began. This person is suddenly Mr. Irritation Number One. We’ve labeled him.

Then, when they leave the room, and we settle back to our reading, the irritation starts to lift. We were happy, then they came in, then we got unhappy, then they left, then we calmed down again ~ isn’t this all proof that they are the source of irritation?! We may smile wryly reading this, but in the heat of the moment that’s what we think, isn’t it?

That’s what it feels like, and that’s why we get irritated with them. Mentally, and then the next time we see them, we cry: “You ignore me, you’re always ignoring me, and I hate you! You make my life miserable! You do! If you were out of my life I’d be happy and confident all the time.  Look at you, you walked out of the room and I became happy again.”

inappropriate attention and delusionsActually the source of our unhappiness is our own so-called inappropriate attention (the third of the six causes). We think of all of their faults and exaggerate them, and edit out any of their good qualities, until we can’t remember why we ever married them, and now we need a divorce. All of this is going on in our mind, and meanwhile our old friend just came in because he needed to write something down and didn’t see us.

We’re doing it all the time, aren’t we? We’re actually thinking the causes of our irritation do lie in other things or other people. And we think it’s perfectly okay, normal, and reasonable to assume that – that is what everybody else does. What’s wrong with it?


let go of what you think you knowWell, what’s wrong with it is that we’re utterly enfeebling ourselves. We’re giving the key to our happiness away to someone else. We’re saying, “My happiness actually depends on you. I need you to come into this room and be nice to me. If you’re not, I’m going to get irritated and mad.” We are surrendering our happiness to the whims, behavior, and attitudes of others. We are disempowering ourselves. We have lost control over our own peace of mind and therefore our own happiness due to misdiagnosing the causes of our own suffering, unhappiness, irritation, and delusion.

(Someone once asked me about another more extreme example — say a person came up to you and hit you, would you then have a legitimate reason to be upset? I replied that we could say that it was perfectly normal and reasonable to get upset, and so on and so forth, but the fact remains that by allowing ourselves to get upset, we compound the injury, whereas if we manage to stay peaceful, un-upset, in that instance where is the problem? You are still relinquishing control to the other person by letting them hurt you mentally. Of course we need to work our way up to being able to stay un-rattled in situations like this, but simply knowing that we are never really free whilst we feel entirely dependent on others’ behavior is a good starting point for practice.)

This is one major reason why we’re not as happy as we would like to be, why we continue to suffer, why we continue to experience unhappiness. It is because we’re not in control – we allow everything and everybody to get to us. But what is actually getting to us is our own delusions.

My parasites made me do it

Winston Churchill and his catTo James Graff of The Week’s credit, he didn’t seem to buy into the parasite thing either. I’ll let him have the last word:

The idea that the evolutionary drive of microbes can trump the human will is deeply depressing. Was that Winston Churchill standing up for Western civilization, or just parasites he caught from his ginger tabby, Jock? I say we just can’t go there. We have to draw a line in the cerebrum and lay claim to our own fates. “My parasites made me do it” is an even lamer excuse for foolishness than “I’m having a bad day.” So I hereby declare responsibility not only for my own actions, but for those of my entire biosystem. I urge you and all humanity to join me. Or should I say us? ~ The Week

Your turn: What causes your delusions (really)? Examples welcome!

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

10 thoughts on “The six causes of our problems, according to Buddhism”

  1. One day at Manjushri I placed my tent under a waterfall and when it started to rain water started to come inside my tent at the middle of the night, I placed a towel where the water was coming in from and spected that would solve the problem. Not realizing the water was not coming from the tent itself but from the water channel itself I couldn’t solve the problem and it was a matter of time until the towel got completely wet and afterwards my sleeping bag. I think is similar what we do with our delusions, unpleasant feelings and any other kind of suffering. We try to blame others or cover it up without thinking or investigating the real cause of it. Thanks for the post, it was nice reading it.

  2. Yes, the delusions are ‘utterly enfeebling’ (love that phrase!) Makes me wonder why we bother. Welcome back hun.

  3. Thank you for the beautiful simplicity of this. It appears to be a great cause of happiness for me. : )

  4. Thank you. It always amazes me when I realise I really do need to have my memory jogged. And, by the way, where have you been? I have missed your wonderful shares. Keep them coming please. Fae.

  5. glad to see your “blogging” again”!. I’ve missed my luna wisdom fix. Love Mark

  6. When I’m trying to control the unfolding moment whilst say, as the listener in a conversation with another, sometimes my self cherishing mind causes an interlude of delusion pain. From mistaking the situation as existing independently from its own side, develops the uncertainty fear factor of a possible uncontrolled death and a quiet panic attack of self grasping ignorance ensues. Samsara’s net of suffering has completely overwhelmed me once again

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