Creating space in our minds

perspective and meditation
perspective and meditation
Depends how you look at things

Until Konstantin the Russian tenant showed up, my yard in America was overgrown with prickly thistles and ugly weeds. My ultimate plan was to get rid of the seeds and roots of those unwanted plants, but how was I supposed to dig those up if I couldn’t even get to them? I first needed to create space by weed-whacking (actually, I asked Konstantin to do it, but all analogies break down sooner or later…) In the same way, my ultimate spiritual plan is to dig out the seeds of my delusions by realizing emptiness, but at the same time I can be preventing delusions from growing wild in my mind by weed-whacking their other five causes, especially the object and inappropriate attention. (Sadly, neither Konstantin nor anyone else can do this job for me.)

For example, if I wrote something really annoying right here:

“Get off this computer and get a life, you loser.”

you might become angry with me. If so, this would be because you’ve still got the seed or potential for anger right now, even when your mind is peaceful, which means there is always the danger of anger arising. However, anger does not actually arise until the other causes of anger, such as a rude comment and inappropriate attention, come together.

Cause of delusion # 2, the object
a Lambanana in Liverpool
Is it a lamb or is it a banana?
(A Lambanana in Liverpool)

Delusions cannot arise without an object. Without perceiving an attractive object like Walker’s Salt and Vinegar Crisps, I cannot develop attachment, and without perceiving a disagreeable object like a dentist’s drill grinding into my teeth, I cannot develop aversion.

This means that the fewer objects of delusion I encounter, the fewer delusions I will develop. However, it is a tall order to never again run into another object of delusion. I need a replacement crown and two fillings, for example, no way of getting around that. When I wimpily asked the dentist whether it would be painful, he smirked at his assistant and said: “Not for us.” Adding insult to injury, I even have to pay for the pain. Moreover, anything can be a disagreeable object for us if we continue to keep our disagreeable states of mind.

art and meditation in Liverpool
An elevator crashed in Liverpool

However, conversely, nothing is a disagreeable object for us if we keep agreeable states of mind. I am in Liverpool at the moment. Two nights ago, a new friend called P, born and bred in the ‘pool, was walking down a street nearby when she was mugged for the first time in her fifty-something years. Someone grabbed her handbag containing all credit cards, iPhone, and cash, and ran off into the shadows. The nice policeman commiserated with her: “You must be very angry!” Friends sympathized with her: “You must feel violated! How awful for you.” But over lunch she was all smiles and told me that she was pleased to notice that she didn’t feel any anger. Indeed, she had no mental pain over the incident at all. And, most surprising of all to her, she found she had the entirely unironic thought, “That poor guy didn’t get away with very much cash!” She said she kept those thoughts to herself, or the policeman might have thought her quite mad.

P is not mad though, she has just been meditating on patience for twenty years, and so it kicked in when needed. Meantime, she was still able to do all the practical things like cancel the cards and put a stop on the phone.

P and I were having this conversation over the best vegetarian sausage I’ve ever tasted, in the Moon and Pea, Lark Lane. The café’s name reminds me of Buddha’s analogy for our spiritual potential – the amount of mind we are currently using compared to the amount of mind we could be using is like a pea compared to a planet.

Sefton Park Liverpool meditation
A friendly swan in Liverpool

So-called Foe Destroyers or Arhats (in Sanskrit) have destroyed all the inner foes of the delusions and their seeds through their direct realization of emptiness, which means that even if they are surrounded by objects of delusions, and even if they try to, it is impossible for them to develop a delusion. Such a person has attained so-called nirvana, or liberation. Their mind is completely at peace all the time, happy and free.

It is possible to accomplish these things because there is no such thing as an object of delusion that exists from its own side. If someone was an inherently disagreeable object of anger, then everyone who saw that person would get angry; but of course they don’t – it is not just Foe Destroyers, their pet dog also loves them to bits! So objects of delusion depend upon our deluded minds. If we have a mind to get deluded, we’re going to find an object of delusion with no difficulty. But if we overcome our delusions by developing patience, compassion, generosity, and so on, the object of delusion transforms into something entirely different – eg, from a thug into an unfortunate soul who really could do with that money.

That’s pretty cool, don’t you think?

(I need to practice it on the dentist next month. Tips 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!

23 thoughts on “Creating space in our minds”

  1. I love my garden, only a small corner suburban plot, however, in ’09 Dharma entered my life, now, there seemed no time to tend the ‘unwanted plants’ invading at a rapid rate. A solution to the ‘problem’ needed to be found and it came in the form of the kindly help of five little rescue hens named, Avaloki, Teshvara, Tara, Yogini and Dakini..As i look out each morning, my mind is calmed, the garden has never looked better!! However, samsara has a ‘knack’ of throwing up the obvious, my ‘lack of patience’. As my husbands dementia slowly increases with each day, i ‘try to exchange self’, but this is not always easy. However, yet again on those days when i am at my wits end, *Buddha* comes to the rescue, in the form of mantras sung by Ani Choying Drolma. Derek is calmed, as am i, _()_Namo Buddhaya. I awoke this morning with but one thought in mind, the need for ‘space to sit quietly, meditating on total emptiness’. How, was i too achieve this, by making time each week to attend my local Kadampa Dharma class, therein i know the benefits for both myself and Derek. _()_Thank you Luna, once again you have been an inspiration.

  2. Dear Luna, thank u for all ur inspiration, iam concinced that u will take the pain of all beings on urself at the dentist!!!!!
    Love u xxx

  3. Hi, Luna,
    The real life example you’ve given here is helpful because it grounds this idea in something we can probably all relate to, but I’m curious to know more. Even with P’s acceptance of what happened, if she encounters her assailant again I’m betting she’ll cross the street, or at least hold on to her bag as they pass. Because she’s skilled, the anger about what already took place is behind her, along with the incident. But when someone knowingly does us harm, we can’t work through their delusions for them, so we do cross the street, or hold on to our bag. We place distance between ourselves and people who harm us. We don’t trust them, or rather we trust that they’ll harm us again if given the opportunity.

    Now putting aside “deluded people” and the harm they inflict on us, what about when we are the deluded person doing willful harm to others? When we deceive or put down or lash out in anger, or whatever, we have to expect that, while the person at the receiving end of this treatment may be skilled enough to let go of the pain, they may organize their relationship with us in a way that ensures we can’t hurt them again. I think it’s tempting to use our study of these methods to diminish other people’s reactions to our own bad behavior as something unenlightened. But we have to know that when we do willful harm to others, what we may intend as a cup of water in the face my to them feel like a cup of acid. We don’t get to control their pain dial, and, of course, we shouldn’t use these teachings to relativize their reaction or justify our own bad behavior.

    I’m mentioning this because I think understanding the harm our own delusions cause others, not just ourselves, can be very strong motivating factor in taming them.

    1. I think this is beautifully put. Thank you.

      It is, of course, not all about us. While we remain with delusions, we are going to be paining others.

  4. Thanks for stopping by. Two thoughts from Geshe La on this: “Buddha taught that the mind has the power to create all pleasant and unpleasant objects.” and “Problems do not exist outside our mind, so when we stop seeing other people as problems they stop being problems.” I can see it’s all true, but it’s just overcoming that belief of an inherently bad person, isn’t it.
    Re: the dentist, isn’t the dread always worse than the actual event? Just remember he’s a dream like dentist ;~) Good luck Luna.

    1. Fabulous quotes! It is a case of *really* believing it, then we’ll go for it.

      I had no dread of going to this dentist on my last visit as i blithely assumed my teeth were just fine 🙂 Might have flossed more, had i known. So at that point the actual event was worse than the complacency 😉 Which might be the case at my death, if i don’t prepare for it. So I think dread is not “always” worse but, I agree, dread makes a difficult situation a great deal longer and harder. I suppose it’s actually the difference between healthy fear leading to preventive actions on the one hand, and a useless dread on the other. I’m just thinking aloud here…

      1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂 And it’s true, while I intellectually embrace these teachings, actually believing them is going to take quite a bit more meditation.
        And that’s the key to a successful death meditation as well, isn’t it? Having firm faith in the validity of the teachings and meditating on them, with the best motivation we have.

  5. P’s example is very inspiring and shows what familiarity with virtue can do for your life.Anger would not add anything constructive or helpful into the appearance.I aspire to be able to practice like that.
    Welcome to Liverpool and you can always check out the Dental Hospital!x

  6. I love your stories, they always fit right into my life. And I thank you for that. But I would try to find another dentist, one who does not smirk. Most dentist will be careful to minimize pain even if they have to stick an awful lot of clumsy instruments into your mouth. Good luck!

  7. If I think I must eliminate things from my life in order to achieve emptiness of mind, is this merely an indicator of delusion, a lack of acceptance of what is?

    1. It depends. Sometimes simplifying things can in fact make life more peaceful (which is one reason why moral discipline is useful). Sometimes, though, we just complicate matters again with our deluded thoughts, and sometimes eliminating certain things from our life is not even possible. Patient acceptance of whatever appearances arise is the more proven method to bring space into the mind.

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