How to catch a problem before it catches you

This carries on directly from this last article.

My lovely dad turned 80 on October 2nd, and we were discussing the meaning of (the rest of his) life. He told me he’d been perusing the obituaries to get a sense of how long he had to live and worked out (by some strange and somewhat optimistic algorithm known only to himself) that most people die at 82. And he has been thinking about what he can accomplish in this remaining time. He thinks making his family happy might be it. I’m quite happy to go along with that 😉  “And how about accomplishing inner peace?”, I suggested. He liked that, so this article is for you, dad. (Your comments are welcome in the comments section below if you can figure out how to get it to work. Just scroll way down the first page of this blog til you see “I’d love to hear from you”, write your comment in that box, and hit the button that says “Post comment”. Anyone else reading this is also welcome to do this!)

Because to accomplish inner peace, I think, we have to understand that our mind is naturally peaceful. That natural peace is constantly being disturbed, however–but by inner problems, not outer ones.

waves on samsaric ocean In this article I talk about how according to Buddha all our problems fit into a pattern of seven types of problem, and all of these can be recognized as stemming from our delusions. The very day after we spoke, my father emailed me about a problem he’d been having with a car and possibly a policeman … even that would seem to fit into the category of having to encounter what we do not like.

So without understanding the nature and causes of our problems (as described in the last article), and if we try instead of fixing our delusions just to fix one outer problem at a time, our problems will continue to arise like endless waves on an ocean. My dad said he was using the car thing as a way to practice inner peace — if he manages it, his actual problem will be over, even if he still has to do something external to make the policeman happy. And also he’ll be better set up to solve the next problem that comes his way. Inner peace, just as much as anxiety, is habit-forming.

When was your last problem-free day?
should i tell him
We’re looking in the wrong place!

This time next year we will still be having a problem. It may well appear in a different shape and size to the one we have been having today, but it will still fill our mind, just like today’s problem. The chances are we will have no clue then what today’s problem was, it’ll be long forgotten. I don’t even remember what problem I was having this time last week. However, we’ll still be thinking: “All I need to do is solve this particular problem and I’ll be happy again!” This won’t work. We won’t be happy again, or at least not for more than a few minutes or hours. Something else will have come up. This is pretty much what has been happening for as long as we can remember – can you remember having even one completely problem-free day?

We have to heal our mind, our mental continuum. The causes of our problems have been lurking in our mind since beginningless time – now is the time to address these, not their symptoms.

Essential advice: catch them early

And it is a very good idea to come to understand how the delusions each operate in our own minds so that we can spot them early. Spotting the inappropriate attention as it is about to arise and dealing with it is like extinguishing a match before it becomes a forest fire. match

For example, if we feel the murmurings of disappointed attachment arising, “Why is it not as good as it used to be?” and we run with that, rather than letting it go and turning our thoughts to compassion or some other actual source of happiness, it will quickly take over our mind and make us feel despondent and lethargic. It will be hard to apply the antidotes to attachment once it has taken over the mind. If we let our delusions or so-called “afflictions” take over our mind, we have no choice but to ride them out or pray for a massive blessing to zap them away. We quickly become stuck and confused and powerless.

On the other hand, when the first murmuring of unhappiness aka delusion does arise, I like to ask myself:

Who are you, thought!? And where do you come from? Where are you going?

I let it dissolve away into emptiness and/or the clarity of my root mind, like a snowflake dissolving onto a hot roof. Then I think about something else, such as faith, or love, or wisdom. I know that my real pleasure always comes from these positive, wise thoughts, and that the changing suffering of attachment is always a disaster — so enough already.

anger 4For anger, I think it is particularly essential to catch it early if we want to control it. It is the most self-justifying delusion – once it has arisen in the mind, it brooks no discussion. So, if for example we feel the rumblings of discontent or dislike, and are about to hone in on someone’s faults and get mighty annoyed, thus ruining a perfectly good day, we can go into the restroom and remember just 3 good things about that person to derail the runaway anger train.

We can learn a thousand wise, positive ways of thinking to which we gently turn our mind as soon as we notice that it is getting agitated. In this way, over time, we can stay in control, stay spacious, stay light, stay content, stay free.

It is a great pity to let delusions/problems take over our mind if we have a choice not to do that.  And we do have a choice. We can understand how delusions arise in dependence upon causes and conditions that we can change, ie, from inappropriate, unhelpful thoughts that we don’t need to think if we just catch them early enough and learn not to indulge them. Then we can stay happy and problem-free instead.

In this way, we can remain with our natural inner peace and let it gradually increase — first for one hour, then one day, then two, then a week, then a month, then a year, then two years, then for the rest of this life, however long that may be, and then for all our future lives. May my dad and everyone else accomplish this permanent inner peace.

How do I get rid of problems? Buddha’s advice

problemA million-dollar question. If we could answer this, we could get finally be free of the wretched things. In fact, this would be priceless information.

Buddha did answer this. The whole of Buddhism, or “Dharma”, is supposedly a method to solve all our daily problems, and not just temporarily but FOREVER! This might seem a bit far-fetched. Unless …  unless we realize what our problems actually are and where they are all coming from. At which point the Dharma method suddenly make a lot of sense. And if we gain some actual experience of how this works by trying it out in practice, it makes increasingly more sense. At least, that has been my experience over the past 33 years. I think Buddhism is supercharged common sense.

In his Medicine Buddha teachings of 2004, my teacher Geshe Kelsang said:

Buddha’s teachings are the actual method to solve human problems. To understand this, firstly we think, “What is the real nature of our problems?” Secondly we think, “What is the main cause of our problems?”

The nature of our problems
Medicine Buddha 1
Medicine Buddha helps us cure our inner problems

Have you already had a problem today perchance? What was it? A work problem, a relationship problem, a health problem, a family problem, a computer problem, an ageing problem, an existential problem?

Whichever it was, there were two things going on if we check. For example, if someone said something to us like, “You are not a priority in my life,” and we felt disappointed, there was the outer problem presenting as the thing they said and the inner (actual) problem of our unwished for sad response to that. These are not the same. If that person had said the same words and we hadn’t given a monkeys, we wouldn’t have had an actual problem. And in some cases, like if you happen to be a celebrity and that person a stalker (and I don’t know who reads this blog), those same words might even be a source of relief.

Our problems do not exist outside our mind. Their real nature is our unpleasant feelings, which are part of our mind. Normally we conflate outer and inner problems. Yesterday during a phone call my friend cursed, “Oh darn, I have a problem,” when Avast antivirus disabled his Yahoo toolbar. To be fair he got over it right away – his own unpleasant feeling, his actual problem, passed quickly. Then he sorted out the outer problem by fiddling about with his computer. (Or maybe he didn’t, I didn’t check.)

No unpleasant feeling = no problem. As my teacher says:

 “The computer’s problem exists outside. Our problem exists inside.”baby Rousseau

We can solve external problems as and when necessary by external means, eg, taking the computer to a computer whizz who understands the causes of the problem and can therefore fix it. To fix our inner problems, however, we need to understand their causes, which are not the same at all.

The cause of our problems

Geshe Kelsang continues:

problems outside the mindNow, what is the main cause of our problems? The delusions. All our problems, our unpleasant feelings, come from the delusions of our attachment and ignorance. Therefore, these delusions are the main causes of our problems.

To show how this works, he goes onto explain the role that uncontrolled desire or attachment to our own wishes plays, and you can read about this in How to Solve our Human Problems pages 3-4.  (I recommend having that book on your bedside table and dipping into it every day or whenever you are having a problem —  it is a treasury of practical advice.) I have also written several articles on delusions here.

So I won’t go into more detail here — I just wanted to share the simple logic of figuring out (1) what is the nature of our problems ie, unpleasant feelings, and (2) what is the cause of our problems ie, delusions. Once we can see this, problems becomes so much more easy to handle.


Tantra: bliss boost

Carrying on with even more benefits of transforming enjoyments into the spiritual path with the help of the meditation on transforming enjoyments …

Bliss destroys grasping

graspingEven with this simple method of transforming enjoyments, we can learn to associate bliss not with grasping but with letting go. Generally grasping has been the name of the game in the past with objects of attachment – we grasp at the pizza or the body or the sex or the security, and it destroys the enjoyment. Attachment projects that the bliss is coming from the object, nothing to do with our mind, and as a result we grasp at it; and the stronger we grasp at it as pleasure existing outside our mind, the more elusive it becomes because that is not actually where the pleasure is. It is hard to grasp onto something that is not there, but we try. So we have a momentary high if and when we “get” our object, but it quickly fades, as the mechanism is all wrong, we have set it up all wrong.

I can’t get no satisfaction, and I try, and I try. ~ Mick Jagger

For example, think about the last time you had your favorite food or drink. We got some pleasure from the first bite or swig, and we tried to holdletting go 7 onto it, but we couldn’t because the pleasure was not out there. This grasping is coming from ignorance and the subsequent attachment – that thing exists out there AND it is capable of making me happy, therefore I have to have it, I have to grab it, I need it, I need you. And this grasping destroys our pleasure, so it is very short lived. And then we are onto the next thing because our grasping mind is like a monkey, wanting to grab at another piece of fruit. Or a donut after the pizza. Here in Denver people don’t mind lining up for 45 minutes of their precious human life out in the freezing cold for a Voodoo donut (especially if they have the munchies) – after a few mouthfuls of donut, however, it’s enough already, “What can I do now? I know, I’ll go find someone.” It is one thing after another, constantly seeking stimulation, we so-called “desire realm beings”.

When we realize that bliss and happiness don’t come from out there but from in here, we can relax, a lot. We start to associate bliss and happiness not with grasping and holding onto things, but with letting go. In the bliss boost meditation, for example, we developed bliss by remembering or imagining our object, and then we let it go, but the bliss carried on! Interesting. Perhaps the bliss even increased.

A friend and monk, Kelsang Pagpa, puts it this way:

One day we will realize that mixing our mind with the mere absence of the enjoyments that we normally see gives more pleasure than enjoying them with our senses.

Generating bliss

If we have strong concentration and familiarity, we can keep that bliss going for longer and longer periods of time. In fact, when we gain familiarity with generating bliss we don’t even need to remember or imagine something in the first place. We can simply generate bliss using Tantric techniques, for example mixing with our Spiritual Guide at our heart, generating as a Tantric Buddha, and/or meditating on our subtle vajra body.

(There is so much happiness in general to be had from Dharma – from faith, from compassion or love, from wisdom. And it works every time. As my favorite quote goes:

lotus 7Having rejected the supreme joy of the sacred Dharma
That is an endless source of delight,
Why am I distracted by the causes of pain,
Why do I enjoy frivolous amusements and the like?)

So it seems that bliss is already associated with wisdom – there is a natural connection between bliss and wisdom. As the bliss increases, the grasping diminishes — and the other way around, as the grasping diminishes, the bliss increases. So bliss and emptiness go together very very well indeed.

Actually, emptiness is naturally and always appearing to the very subtle mind of great bliss, like water mixed with water; and if we could only experience it, (which we will one day), we’ll discover for ourselves that this mind of bliss and emptiness pervades all phenomena.

In ultimate truth there are no impure things, no samsara, no suffering and no mistaken appearance; everything is completely pure in the nature of definitive Heruka, emptiness inseparable from the clear light of bliss. ~The New Guide to Dakini Land, p 151.

With Tantra, we can totally let go of external and internal attachments and finally enjoy ourselves. And that enjoyment is profoundly meaningful — leading us closer and closer to the bliss and emptiness of enlightenment, into which pure state we can absorb all living beings, freeing them at once from suffering.

Latest update — August 10th, 2016

Transforming enjoyments was just explained beautifully at the Summer Festival 2016. Here is the verse and explanation we can use if we wish, all taken from Ven Geshe Kelsang’s commentary to the Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

In the Temple of the body of myself as basis Heruka
Appear Heruka Father & Mother, the nature of my purified indestructible white & red drop,
Surrounded by the Heroes & Heroines of the five wheels, the nature of my purified channels & drop elements.
I offer to you, synthesis of all Buddhas of the ten directions,
All my daily enjoyments – eating, drinking, and enjoying any other object of desire.
May I quickly attain enlightenment and become like you so that I will effortlessly benefit all living beings.

While concentrating on the meaning of these words, we enjoy any objects of desire as offerings to the holy beings who reside in the temple of our body. This practice is a special method to transform our daily enjoyments into the quick path to enlightenment. This is Tantric technology.


Tantric empowerments are given regularly at New Kadampa Tradition Centers throughout the world. Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments will be granted in Toronto, NKT Fall Festival 2016.