How much can a person really change?

9 mins read + a video

I was talking about perspective in this article, and I think it’s fair to declare that neither self-grasping nor self-cherishing have any reasonable perspective at all. They are totally self-referential blinkered minds, which also happen to serve no useful purpose whatsoever. bridge the gap

What also arises in dependence upon these ego minds is attachment, where we exaggerate the power of things outside ourselves to make us happy. In a way, we have no choice but to view the world like this. Why? Because we are really over here really wanting to be happy, and everything and everyone else that might possibly make us happy is over there. How can we ever bridge such a gap?

The endless pursuit of pleasure

We have this natural wish to please this real me, “What can I do now to make myself happy?” There is nothing wrong with the wish to be happy, but we have this pressing concern that my happiness is so important, it is so incredibly important, it is more important than everybody else’s happiness, so what can I do about it? I can have a coffee, I can meet a friend, I can inject Botox, I can earn lots of money, etc; and we start projecting sources of happiness out there, thinking, “I need this promotion. I want that car. I need this partner. I want that donut.” And conversely, if I don’t get these things, it is some kind of disaster.

This pursuit is non-stop from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. And then it even continues in our dreams. Exhausting, really.

money doesn't buy happinessAnd what is happening is that some exaggeration is going on because these things don’t ultimately make us happy, they cannot, they are by nature fleeting. They don’t even temporarily make us happy half the time — because the things that we think make us happy are also the source of our problems, vis a vis donuts, jobs, relationships, cars, etc. But with the mind of attachment we exaggerate the power of things to make us happy.

All these things can make us superficially happy for a short while, but they can also cause us much worry and suffering. They can never give us the pure and everlasting happiness that all of us, in our heart of hearts, long for. ~ Eight Steps to Happiness

We externalize the sources of happiness, believing that they are out there, when in fact happiness is in here (point to your heart).

Selfish desires

Attachment can also be understood as “selfish desires”. With any delusion, our thoughts are more selfish, revolving around a stronger sense of a real self than when our mind is peaceful and positive. When we are angry, for example, it is, “You did this to me, ME!” Check out this video by an amusing friend in New York to see some of the dynamics of annoyance at play:

And if we have really strong attachment for someone, we think, “How can I get you to make ME happy? I need you to do this, that, and the other for ME.” See what I’m saying? Depending on their strength, all our delusions have at their core a more or less exaggerated sense of Meeee.

Cultivating the happiness that comes from wisdom

Happiness is a state of mind that comes from mental peace. We get some inner peace automatically the moment our mind is free from upset, when we are temporarily free from stress, worry, selfish desire, etc. Our mind is rather like a clear, still glass of water (which would feel very peaceful if it had feelings); but then our delusions shake that glass about and the water goes crazy. This is why even the simplest breathing meditation, letting go of the turbulence to quieten the mind, induces feelings of peace and well-being. i want happiness

And then we can deepen that inner peace by developing thoughts of love, or compassion, or patience, or wisdom. A rich blissful mind of wishing others to be happy, for example, or a mind that happily accepts everything that arises … there are many peaceful states of mind and they all make us genuinely happy, but donuts don’t. Donuts and cars and sex and money can sometimes induce momentary sense pleasure, of course they can — but real, lasting happiness is far deeper than that, and it arises from within. Geshe Kelsang says that everyone needs the true happiness that comes from wisdom.

As he also says in his stunning new book, Mirror of Dharma:

Some people may say, “I will be happy all the time if I become wealthy, enjoy a good reputation and have the opportunity of a relationship with the person I desire.” I am very sorry, but this is not true! We can see that people who have all these things also experience great unhappiness and many problems. Many wealthy people and those in high positions experience great suffering and many dangers. We see and hear news about such things all the time.

Quick detour

Geshe-la and Gen-lasGotta make a quick detour here to mention something very cool: The transmission of Mirror of Dharma will be given at the International Kadampa Retreat Center in Arizona at the Kadampa Fall Festival 2019, to accompany the opening of a massively huge World Peace Temple on Route 66 that will be visible to many of the 5 million annual visitors to the Grand Canyon. If that doesn’t put Kadampa Buddhism on the map, I don’t know what will.

Do you have a set personality or not?

And as a result of increasing our inner peace, our wisdom and compassion, our personality changes. We change.

As we keep saying in Buddhism, because Buddha said it, the potential of our mind is infinite. He once said that the amount of our mind we use compared with the amount of mind available to be used is like a pea compared with a planet.

So, we can change. Can’t we?

The other day I was reading a 56-year-old study on a bunch of women who were interviewed every year between the ages of 14 and 70 to see how much they changed as people. And, as it turned out, it was a lot. (I cannot now find the article but I did find this.

happiness (1)Normally I think we have this idea that we have a pretty set personality, “This is just the way I am. Maybe I can get a little bit happier with a whole lot of effort, maybe I can get a little bit more chilled out, maybe I can even get a little bit nicer. But basically this is me.”

However, we sell ourselves enormously short given how much happier we can become, how much kinder, and how much wiser. How we can, in fact, become completely different people — people who live for others, for example a Bodhisattva who wants to free all living being from their suffering and is getting rid of all her faults and limitations to do just that.

Everyone reading this can become a Bodhisattva if you want to. You can become an enlightened being if you learn the methods and put them into practice. Literally, the sky’s not even the limit when it comes to how much we can change.

Nonetheless, due to our stuck ideas of a limited self, and before we get a sense of how extraordinary our minds are through meditation and introspection, there’s a prevalent sense in individuals and society that we all have pretty fixed personalities. That’s where this study is interesting because it discovered that these women were changing all the time and that by the time they reached 70 every single area of their personality had changed beyond recognition — socializing, confidence, wishes, habits, values, everything. Not necessarily for the better, sometimes for the worse, but everything had been replaced. The study concluded you wouldn’t recognize the person of 14 at 70, not just physically but mentally (and that is even long before we slip into senectitude).

Route 66This study is an indicator of how much we change anyway in the natural course of our lives without even particularly trying. What we call our personality is really a bunch of tendencies, wouldn’t you say? We have a certain tendency to react or behave or talk in certain ways around certain people or in certain situations. We have the sense that there is this true essence, true me, or whatever, but is there? Who is this real self who has a real fixed personality? Where is this self? It’s quite an interesting question, isn’t it?

We can use our wisdom to see if we can find it anywhere and — if we can’t – surely we are free to let it go?!

I think who we are depends upon our thoughts. Who we are is very largely, perhaps completely, who we think we are. And who we become is who we want to become, which also depends on who we think we can become.

Who we think we are determines what we do

There is a relationship between who we think we are and what we think we want. And as we always tend to put our energy and time into what we want, who we think we are determines what we do each day.

meditator in the Grand CanyonFor example, even in the course of an ordinary week we can change dramatically. We can wake up on Tuesday feeling like a complete loser – “Today is going to be horrible. I know it. I’m useless at this job, it really worries me, I’ve messed everything up in my life, and no wonder no one likes me.” We can think of ourselves like that all day long, thereby depriving ourselves of all agency and rendering ourselves pretty much powerless, not to mention miserable. And what are we going to be doing all day long? Anything fun or inspiring?!

Wednesday we can wake up feeling on top of the world – “I can’t wait for work today, I can’t wait to shine at this job, I am just great, really sorted, strong enough to face any challenge, and I have lovely friends, everything is good.” And do we not act completely differently as a result?

What has actually changed about us from Tuesday to Wednesday? Did someone switch out the grumpy me for the happy me overnight?! No, only our thoughts about who we are have changed, and therefore we have changed. We’re always having these different ideas of ourselves, it’s going on all the time. There is nothing fixed about us. Who we are, what we are, and therefore what we do depends entirely on our thoughts. And our personalities are our persistent thoughts, if you like, our tendencies, our habits of behaving and reacting in certain ways. As it defines personality in dictionary.com:

  1. the sum total of the physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics of an individual.
  2. the organized pattern of behavioral characteristics of the individual.
  3. a person as an embodiment of a collection of qualities.

There is no person to be found in that sum total or that organized pattern (not sure who is organizing it?!). A person or self is merely imputed upon it. By changing the parts — our behavioral, physical, mental, emotional, social, (and spiritual) characteristics — of course we change completely the pattern, the whole, and the imputed person, our self.

eagle in grand canyonSo, to answer this article’s title, our personalities can and do change completely, even in this life, let alone from life to life. In which case, let’s finally take advantage of this fact to deliberately transform our personality into the best possible personality — why not a Bodhisattva? — with the use of wisdom and compassion, the two wings that will fly us fast to enlightenment. Then everything we want and everything we do will be about making others happy, and as a side-effect we too will achieve the happiness we’ve always longed for.

Over to you. How much do you think you can really change?

Time to read a bit more?

Feel free to change your mind 

What about me? 

What we do depends on who we think we are

No real self

Happiness depends on the mind

So, happiness depends on the mind, not on external conditions. That’s what we say in Buddhism. All the time!

(Carrying on from this article on developing self-confidence.)

In January, while in NYC, I decided in the spirit of market research for this article to see if I could find happiness in and around Central Park; and then jotted down my findings.

coffee

I started in Starbucks, of course. Only second in the queue, I was quickly weighing up the important decision of whether to ask for a flat white with 170 calories or a cappuccino with 140, and whether I was really going to spend over $5 on a coffee in the first place (I was), when I noticed that the woman in the line ahead was ordering 13 drinks. So I gave up. No coffee for me today in Starbucks itself, so I had to search for happiness elsewhere, like in Baldacci’s across the street.

And if I thought Baldacci’s was pricey, it was nothing compared with $3 per minute for a ride in a grimy Pedi cab in the Park, a ride I didn’t take. How demoralizing a job to be a Pedi cab driver, all lined up going nowhere on this wintery day, wealthy women in Lulu yoga pants declining the drivers firmly, almost crossly, “No, we came here to get some exercise!” How many people are stuck in grinding or demoralizing jobs all day long all over the world, if they are in jobs at all? However, although most of the drivers looked dejected, one or two looked like they were having some fun – different minds, different experiences.pedicab in new york

I walked past the young pregnant homeless woman, still nursing a cold. I gave her a smoothie. I’ve taken to connecting with her between the apartment and the subway. Some days she looks very sad, today she smiled warmly. She moves me – why is she there? How can I really help her?

How many New Yorks are there? As many as there are New Yorkers? Do the ducks on the lake know they are in Manhattan? Probably not. So do they live in Manhattan, or do they live in Duckhattan?! The quality of the New York life — happy, unhappy, or neutral – depends not on an objective New York but on what is going on in the minds and experiences of the various living beings, which includes the results of their previous actions, or karma.

I, for one, had a lovely time because I was determined to do so, and because there are umpteen opportunities in this city — and indeed wherever there are lots of people — to increase our peaceful minds of love, patience, compassion, and the wisdom realizing New Yorkimpermanence and that everything depends upon the mind. I was also blissed out by a great acrobatic show, though I noticed some onlookers still looked a little distracted and forlorn, and one child was crying.

Taking refuge in peaceful minds

This is of course just one hour in one day in one month in one insignificant person’s lifetime, but I relay it here as an example of how every minute of everyone’s experience, including my own, depends upon the mind. This is why we need to get started in taking refuge in the peace of our own good hearts and kind actions, learning familiarity with positive minds as antidotes to negative ones while we still have the relative freedom to do this, while we are not yet suffocated by suffering.

To embrace this fact — that happiness depends on the mind far more than on external conditions — and to live by it, as opposed to just saying it with our mouth, we need the self-confidence that believes that it is true and that happiness is possible. If we change, if we conquer our delusions.

As explained in this article, we both want to change and yet distrust change, so we self-sabotage. Have you ever binge-watched Netflix or otherwise put off your meditation practice for days, weeks, months, or even years?! I think we hold ourselves back because we have not thought enough about how it is possible for us to change, we don’t really believe it, maybe we don’t even want to believe it as it has too many repercussions on our way of life; and so we give into lazy habits instead.

vancouverIf we really want to be happy, peaceful minds work. Overcoming delusions works. We need the confidence that knows this — as well as the fact that we can conquer our delusions — so that we can break any vicious cycle of discouragement leading to inaction leading to no results leading to more discouragement. We need consistency in applying peaceful minds every day; and by taking this self-confidence to heart, we can become more steadfastly motivated. Then we get results, which in turn encourages us to keep going, in a virtuous cycle.

Over to you. Comments welcome.

Related articles

Happiness from the inside out

Samsara’s pleasures are deceptive

Want peace of mind? Get rid of your delusions.

 

 

Going wide means going deep

Yesterday I ran into a cool guy at the Colorado Mills Outlet Mall – he was smiling so broadly as he served his customers that I couldn’t help saying to him when it was my turn,mountain-1 “You’re in a really great mood!” And he replied, “Yes, I’m always happy. It’s a choice, you know. I have also spent a lot of time in the past not being happy.” And then apropos nothing, except, who knows, maybe apprehension about this Tuesday’s election (or perhaps that’s just me), “Being black in this country is not always easy. But I have made a choice.” I told him I was a meditator, and he was of course all over that; and then he asked me if I had made the mala on my wrist myself (I hadn’t, I never make anything, but I liked that he knew the word.)

Encounters like this are more and more frequent with the passing years – this has just reminded me that an immigration official at Atlanta airport, upon noticing the mala on my wrist, recently reached below the fingerprint machine to pull out his well-thumbed copy of Eight Steps to Happiness. This is all a far cry from the start of my interest in meditation (1981), when people looked at me funny if I even mentioned the word, let alone that I was into Buddhism — “You, ermm, what?!”

i-had-help
Had help writing this article.

I think this growing awareness is a very good thing because the world could do with more people making the conscious effort to be happy, for lord knows there are enough unhappy people about, as my teacher Venerable Geshe-la once put it. And if the cover story of this week’s Time magazine, “Anxiety, depression, and the American adolescent” is anything to go by, unhappiness would appear to be on the rise in our modern society, and society needs help.

(I also hope that article will raise attention that will help stem the tide for young people. For it’s important that possible medical diagnoses of clinical anxiety and depression are considered by all concerned and treated where necessary by qualified authorities.)

I think the choice to be happy is one of the main choices we have to make in order to succeed in life – probably even more important than the choice of President (though please go vote in any case!) Luckily Buddha gave loads of practical advice that anyone can follow on how we can make that choice and stick to it. It’s not just for our own sakes either — if we are happy, we are in a far stronger position to make others happy. That guy in Aeropostale was helping make people’s day.

Getting over ourselves

As Buddha pointed out again and again, the best way to become happier is to get over ourselves and cherish others instead. But this can give rise to some trepidation; namely, if I care more and more about others, and take responsibility for them, won’t I just end up more stressed out than I am already?! It’s already bad enough worrying non-stop about the kids and the aged parents and the people at work and the refugees and the shelter animals — how can I add limitless living beings to the mix and not go mad? And when will I ever get another moment off? There’ll always be something to worry about, something that I have to do.

The other day I told the story of Patti Joshua in South Africa, who brought Buddha’s teachings to over 11,000 children in the rural areas of KwaZulu Natal; and I quoted her friend as saying, “There was always space in her heart for one more.” But she never worried. She had such a huge heart that there was plenty of room in it for everyone, with space left over. By increasing our compassion we can widen our own heart space, and with wisdom we can deepen it.mountain-3

Spread too thin?

With compassion to liberate all living beings, we understand that everybody hurts sometimes, and we want to take the suffering away from all of them, until we feel responsible for everyone — possessing the superior intention of a Bodhisattva. But we need to learn to do this without being overwhelmed or anxious.

Worry and existential tiredness, however, do not come from the concern we have for others but from a tightness born of ignorance about our true nature, and attachment to externals, to appearances. So to go wide, I think, without spreading ourselves thin, we have to go deep.

As Buddha pointed out, our mind is like a vast clear boundless ocean, with limitless potential. All his teachings are relating to that potential, which we all share – the spiritual path is about accessing more and more of that inner peace, love, wisdom, compassion, faith, and utter happiness, where we end up with not a care in the world even as we work for the welfare of all.

Take time out

There are many ways to go about this, to go deeper so we can go wider. Simply taking some time out each day to meditate and experience the restorative nature of our own peaceful mountain-4minds, even through a simple breathing meditation for example, is invaluable. And I bet we can all find ten or fifteen minutes for this if we really want to. For me, absorbing in meditation each day has always been the happiest and sanest part of my life, setting me up for the rest of the day. As Venerable Geshe Kelsang says in How to Transform Your Life:

Unless we make some time every day to meditate, we will find it very difficult to maintain peaceful and positive minds in our daily life, and our spiritual practice as a whole will suffer. Since the real purpose of meditation is to increase our capacity to help others, taking time each day to meditate is not selfish.

You know what happens if you never get off the couch to exercise, the results are not pretty. In a similar way, we need to tune daily into our Buddha nature and faith in our own potential — ideally in our own enlightenment — or we are almost bound to get swept up in superficials and feel overly busy and out of our depth.

If we are so busy changing externals that we have no time to change our mind, we are, according to Buddhism, being lazy and wasting time. It’s a bit like trying to chop down an old oak tree with a blunt axe for hours or days on end, not taking out the necessary few minutes to sharpen it.

Your happy seat

But if we enjoy some time out to relax into our hearts and experience the peace and clarity of our mind, observing in our own experience how all our thoughts arise from and fall into our root awareness, we will be able to let go of our busy, overwrought imaginings for we will no longer be grasping at them. If we make our deep ocean-like mind peaceful, wise, and loving, its emerging waves will be too. Otherwise, we can become so identified with mountain-2the waves and froth on the surface of the ocean that we forget where they’re coming from and think that they are arising under their own power, out of our control. And the detail then feels overwhelming; we easily lose the plot. As Geshe-la says:

We have to manage our time and energy in such a way that we can be of maximum benefit to others, and to do this effectively we need time alone to recover our strength, collect our thoughts, and see things in perspective.

Who doesn’t love vacations!? Most people I know love the idea of being able to get away from their worries and enjoy space and freedom. Frankly, we could be doing this every day of our lives if we wanted to, sans the expense and jet lag. Tibetan meditators called their meditation seat “the happy seat” for good reason.  

This ability to relax and go deep, to access our own inner peace in order to cope, has always been important. But in our complicated, fast, over-stimulated modern society, I would argue that it is now a crucial life skill that everyone needs to learn as soon as possible.

More in the next article. Meanwhile, I’d like to invite you to share any practical experience on how you cherish others without letting the responsibility worry you.

Related articles:

How is your meditation going?

Want quicker results from your meditation? Start where you are.

Clarity of mind meditation

Ten ways to be happier

Who doesn’t want to be happier? That, and wanting to be free from suffering, are the two basic wishes of all living beings, from world leaders to the smallest gnat. Generally, however, as Shantideva says:

Although living beings wish to be free from suffering,
They run straight towards the causes of suffering;
And although they wish for happiness,
Out of ignorance they destroy it like a foe. ~ Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life

Someone at work posted an article called Ten Simple Science-Based Ways to be Happier Today, perhaps not surprisingly one of the most read leadership articles of 2013, and it inspired me to give a Buddhist version.

1.      Exercise more

As it explains in the article, exercise helps prevent depression, helps us relax, increases our brain power, is good for our physical health and weight, etc, etc. This we all know, really.

exercizeMy teacher Geshe Kelsang encourages people to stay healthy through exercise and good diet. Although our mind goes on forever and so we need to put most of our effort into keeping our mind healthy and increasingly strong, we also have to look after this meaty body despite its limited shelf life. At the moment we have a precious human life with which to help ourselves and everyone else, so we need to take care of this body as our vehicle, rather as an ambulance driver takes good care of her ambulance so she can drive around helping people. Those with a Tantric empowerment even have a commitment to take care of their body, not needlessly weaken it, let alone destroy it.

Prostrations are recommended if we want to combine our exercise directly with a spiritual practice. I think with a little mindfulness it is also possible to transform any exercise into the spiritual path – for example, when I get a chance to swim laps, I enjoy thinking Dharma thoughts, and bathing in water-like blessings and/or prostrating to an ocean of compassion, etc. Maybe some of you do some creative things, care to share?

See # 5 below too.

2.      Sleep more

“Sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.”

For those who have not gained control over their deeper levels of consciousness, sleep may come from dullness and its imprints — but we still need it!!

For ordinary beings sleep helps to restore the energy of the body and to bring the elements of the body into harmony, thereby making the body comfortable and prolonging life. ~ How to Understand the Mind page 166

The book also says:

Sleep is also the basis of the development of all the things we experience in dreams.

remember you are dreamingI think this refers to the fact that the appearances in dreams actually arise from the dreaming mind, are perceptions of the dreaming mind. This is no different to when we are awake — our mind is the basis for the perceptions of our waking world too. There is nothing outside the mind. So dreaming can really help us to understand this, to increase our wisdom.

Also the yoga of sleeping taught in Tantra is incredibly helpful and time-saving – better than spending almost a third of this precious, hard-to-attain human life zonked out. Sleep doesn’t have to be a waste of time. We can actually learn to use our sleeping mind to meditate if we train in the six stages of Mahamudra Tantra.

At least it is a good idea last thing each night to let go of and purify the bad parts of the day, not entering our dream world with a deluded, upset, anxious mind. There is nothing to stop us turning our mind in a positive direction as we lay down, and we can ask the Buddhas and the Dakinis to bless our minds while we sleep. They will.

Trijang Rinpoche, Geshe Kelsang’s own root Spiritual Guide, even recommends a nap if we are feeling negative or anxious during the day. You can find out more about the yoga of sleeping in your free ebook Modern Buddhism.

3.      Move closer to work

‘Or as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert put it, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”’

Although I do travel quite a lot, I’m lucky in that my daily commute at the moment is a rather delightful bike ride through the streets of Denver. But if we have no choice, we can remember that everything is transformable. Actually being stuck in traffic can give us the opportunity to listen to teachings, develop a happy mind, practice patience, remember the kindness of the people in the cars around (for without them, there would be no road), and so on. We don’t actually have to be “stuck”. Those moments of pause throughout our day — eg, at red lights, when our computer spends an age booting up, waiting for an appointment at the doctor’s office, last in the long line at Starbucks — are a perfect chance to check in with our mind to see if it is peaceful and positive.

4.      Spend times with friends and family

“The only thing that really matters in life is your relationships to other people.”

A study published in the Journal of Socio-Economics states that our relationships are worth more than $100,000! Not sure how they got that figure … but we do all know that money doesn’t buy us happiness, don’t we?! Nor does status etc. At least theoretically we know this, though this recent New York Times article shows that people still chase after more and more money and prestige … we chain ourselves to our own desks.

I am sitting at an airport café writing this, and enjoying the loud laughter, almost hysterical laughter, coming from a group of Bosnian friends sitting at a table close to me. They are having a blast! Love is where it’s at. If spending time with friends and family brings out our love, it’ll definitely make us happy. If it brings out our frustration, dislike, and attachment — not so much.Pope and little girl

Everyone can be a friend. To a Bodhisattva, a so called “friend of the world”, who has trained in universal love and compassion, everyone is a friend. I liked the recent footage of Pope Francis jumping out of his Fiat 500 every few feet, or so it seemed, to hug random strangers!

However, I think we also need time alone, and to learn to love being on our own, happy with ourselves, both in general and if we are interested in pursuing a spiritual path. I have spent many, maybe most, of my happiest hours alone. There are numerous benefits to solitude explained in the scriptures and experienced by past and present spiritual practitioners.attachment 3

Alone or surrounded, it all depends on what we are doing with our mind. If we have love, we can be on a retreat in the middle of nowhere and feel very connected and happy. If we don’t, we can be sitting in the midst of family and friends and feel left out and lonely.

The most reliable friends, if you ask me, are enlightened beings, holy beings — those who’ve perfected their love, compassion, and wisdom, whether Buddhist or otherwise. They unrelentingly see the good in us, looking beyond our faults to our pure nature, and are always there for us. We could do a lot worse than getting used to hanging out with them on a daily basis, sharing with them our good and our bad times.

5.      Go outside

I love going outside, personally, enjoying the elements. So, it seems, does everyone else around here (Colorado) who work so they can play – I sometimes wonder if a love of the great outdoors has supplanted the work ethic I’ve found everywhere else in America …

I’ve read various studies that say getting into nature is very helpful, and one thing I enjoy doing when I am walking around is the Tantric self-generation practice of remembering that the 4 elements of water, wind, fire (heat), and earth are the four Dakinis – Dakini, Lama, and Khandarohi, and Rupini. This blissful practice gets the inner elements into balance – good for both the mind and the body. You can check this out in The New Guide to Dakini Land.staunton state park 2

I think a wonderful practice while outside is to offer the flowers, sky, and other delights to the Buddhas around you and at your heart, with the wish that everyone enjoy a Pure Land.

6.      Help others

“To make yourself feel happier, you should help others.”

“We scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.” ~ Martin Seligman

Cherishing others is the way to solve our problems. And we can help others practically in so many ways, it is the Bodhisattva’s way of life – Bodhisattvas promise two things, to get enlightened and to help others practically. Some of the moral disciplines of helping others in the Bodhisattva vow include, for example, going to the assistance of those in need, relieving the distress of others, and giving wealth to others. The article notes that spending money on other people, called “prosocial spending,” also boosts happiness. In Buddhism, generosity is taught to be a major source of happiness – the Bodhisattva feels amazing joy just at the word “Give”!

If you’re not sure practically how you’re supposed to help more people, Nagarjuna’s advice on the subject can be very helpful:

Even if we are not able to help others directly
We should still try to develop a beneficial intention.
If we develop this intention more and more strongly,
We shall naturally find ways to help others. ~  Universal Compassion 

The article also says:

“Volunteering is rewarding in terms of higher life satisfaction.”

And as you may have noticed already, there are often plenty of opportunities to volunteer at your local Buddhist Center 🙂 Or animal shelter. Or wherever.

Of course part of all this is avoiding the opposite, harming others.

7.      Practice smiling

I have sometimes wondered if I’d look more cool if I smiled less and scowled more. I have concluded that this may well be the case, but overall I’d rather be happy than cool.fake smile

Of course, you gotta mean it – fake smiles don’t count.

Interestingly:

“Smiling can improve our attention and help us perform better on cognitive tasks.”

This list doesn’t mention laughing at the ridiculousness of samsara/sense of humor, but perhaps that can be snuck in here.

8.      Plan a trip but don’t take one

I had to think about this one 🙂 Then I thought about the power of imagination. We don’t ever really go anywhere anyhow.

9.      Meditate
all you need is inside youNo list on becoming happier would be anywhere near complete without this. In fact, the things on this list can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful, and the function of meditation is to make our mind peaceful.

Buddha explained that due to ignorance we do a lot of hallucinating. On the most basic level, we hallucinate that happiness comes from outside ourselves. We almost always assume that it is to be found out there somewhere – if I can get the right partner, the right job, the right car, the right pair of shoes, etc I’ll be just fine! And until I have them, I won’t.

This is not true. What we need to be happy is mental freedom.

We chain ourselves to external sources of happiness that cannot deliver the goods. I think that uncontrolled desire is a bit like playing the slot machines. Maybe we hit some kind of jackpot — someone returns our desire for a while until one or the other of us has had enough, or we enjoy our promotion until we realize it is too much like work – but by now we are addicted to trying again and again. A morbid fascination – maybe the oranges will all line up this time!! – distracts us from looking for happiness within. Sometimes it works due to some good karma, frankly more often it doesn’t – gambling addictbut until then we keep trying, bound to the machine in a dingy crypt full of fellow gambling addicts. We need to get out of here and into the sunshine: “I’m free!” Meditation does that for us.

Happiness is a state of mind, a feeling, and therefore its real causes lie within the mind. So of course meditation has to be on this list because with it we go direct to the source. Familiarizing our mind with positivity is the most direct, effective way to become happy. This in fact is what the article says:

“Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down, it’s been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier life.”

This whole Kadampa Life blog is about meditation, but I’ll let the scientists conclude this section:

“… neuroimaging … concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.”

And

“Research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness.”

10.  Practice gratitude

“Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.”

Buddha had a lot to say about this. We do some beautiful meditations on cherishing others by remembering their kindness. We are grateful to living beings and we are grateful to enlightened beings, both. I wrote more about that here.

Thanks everyone for reading. I have only touched on a few things here. I’m sure you have a lot more ideas and it’d be great if you felt like sharing them in the comments.

Happiness is here right now

Wrote this on Valentine’s Day but it works every day.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! How’s it going?! Feeling happy?! Feeling loved? Or feeling unloved?! Feeling disappointed?!

Whether we are having a great day or a depressing one is not whether or not we have a hot partner (or any partner!) to go to dinner and a movie with, but whether or not we are feeling loving and/or blissful inside. (Click here for articles on overcoming loneliness.)

valentine 3Is this true?: We try and make samsara work every day – not just on the macro scale, but even on the micro, organizing our kitchen cabinet, arranging the right date, etc. But it is never quite right. We organize our relationships and life and health and job, but we still have not quite found the right person or the right pair of shoes.

And on Valentine’s Day there seems to be an even bigger disconnect between trying to make things work and things not quite working. One problem with Valentine’s Day is that people set themselves up for disappointment by expecting things to happen – no surprise that calls to the suicide hotlines spike on February 14. (Someone just told me upon reading this today that Al Anon apparently refers to expectations as “pre-meditated resentments”…)

We can’t quite make anything work. We haven’t quite got it. But what we haven’t quite got is that it is samsara — the experience of an ordinary or deluded mind – that does not work. That cannot work. We need to understand the importance of going inside. And today would be a good day to understand the value of training in bliss.

Training in bliss

The initially imagined (but still functional) bliss that arises from dissolving everything into the experience of bliss and emptiness during Tantric generation stage and the natural bliss we get from the melting of the drops in the central channel once we are able to absorb our energy winds during Tantric completion stage leads to a Yogi or Yogini’s profound experience , as described in Tantric Grounds and Paths p. 141:

They feel that they experience a profound bliss mixed with emptiness, as if emptiness and their mind of bliss have become one entity… Once they have this experience they simultaneously perceive any objects such as forms that appear to them as manifestations both of emptiness and their mind of bliss.

We may not be able to do this yet, but nonetheless we can begin to incorporate the training in bliss into our life and it is important. Why? Because deep happiness and bliss ARE possible if we look in the right direction. And it is the experience of bliss mixed with the ultimate nature of reality, emptiness, that will finally set us free from attachment and all other delusions, and allow us to help others in the same way.

Arrows of attachment
Arrows of attachment

At the moment, unfortunately, whenever we experience a bit of happiness, from a sandwich or another person or a ray of sunshine on a cold day, we feel that the happiness is coming from an object outside of ourselves and we immediately develop attachment. “More of that please! I don’t want it to go away.” You’re out on a freezing cold day and the sun comes out from behind the clouds and warms your face, “Oh, that feels good!” Followed immediately by pain: “Nooo, here comes the cloud. Oh, come on!” Talking to a cloud.

Or you’re with a nice person having such a nice time – “Oh, you’ve got to go, so soon?” Pain. And that is what attachment does as it projects the happiness onto an external object or person, not understanding that the happiness is coming from within the mind.  Attachment comes and spoils it. It spoils everything. So we need a basic training in ALLOWING ourself to enjoy deeply while  recognizing that the enjoyment is actually coming from our mind.

So let’s say you are enjoying the presence of a person in your life. Enjoy it, but understand that the person is reminding you of the enjoyment that exists within your own mind. They are giving you a window into the fact that bliss is possible but only if you stay with the source of the happiness, which is not the person but your own experience.

bliss 1Instead of allowing our mind to go out and grasp, to try and hold onto this person who is walking out the door (even if it’s for the last time), we just move the mind inwards so we stay with the enjoyment and we recognize, “This enjoyment is like a surface manifestation of the bliss that is in my mind, like a wave arising from a blissful ocean, reminding me of the bliss that is the actual nature of my mind.” Thank you very much! You’ve just reminded me that I can generate great bliss, meditate on emptiness, and become a Buddha! In this life. And it is going to be fun doing it because it is so blissful. As Geshe-la says in Tantric Grounds and Paths:

If our mind becomes full of bliss, all phenomena that appear to our mind are mere manifestations of our mind of bliss, because besides this they do not exist at all – like things in a dream.

We begin to enjoy ourselves but in a pure way so that we extract the enjoyment and let it remind us of the potential for bliss and emptiness. Instead of grasping at the external sunshine or person, we let go. We enjoy it when the sun is shining, we enjoy it when the sun goes behind the cloud. We enjoy being with the person, we enjoy it when the person disappears. This is because we are enjoying hanging out with the pure nature of our mind, and allowing ourself love prisonerconstantly to be reminded of what is possible.

Don’t grab, let go!

So, next time you feel the urge to try and grab your object of attachment – physically, verbally, or mentally – pause a moment and do this instead.

We imagine or remember having fun with them. We generate bliss. We let them go, let them dissolve away. We abide in bliss, waves of bliss arising from the root mind at our heart. We remember that nothing exists from its own side, not even them, that everything is mere name, mere hallucination, mere projection. We dissolve everything into bliss and emptiness, with the compassionate wish to become a Buddha and destroylove cosmic everyone’s samsaric hallucinations right now.

We can do that as often as we want until it becomes second nature. Then we will really have transformed objects of enjoyment into the spiritual path, reducing our attachment and increasing our wisdom.

Here are some more articles explaining how to transform enjoyments/desire , as well as other things we can do with this experience. I hope you enjoy the bliss of your own mind today and every day.

Buddhism and the pursuit of happiness

broken printerThe last article, based on the Spring Festival introduction, looked at how deceptive samsara’s enjoyments are. Of course its sufferings are no fun either. Now I have boarded my second plane, from San Francisco to Denver, to find it almost entirely empty. I asked the flight attendant why, and she told me that the machines printing boarding passes were not working and so the would-be passengers who do not have their passes on their mobile devices are not able to clear security! I asked if we were waiting for them, and she said we couldn’t. I asked if they’d have to pay for another flight themselves, and she said yes, they would. So that sucks for all the other people who are supposed to be on this airplane. Unless of course this plane crashes.

Samsara sucks. Samsara sucks for everyone. Luckily, samsara is not real.

Gen-la Dekyong told us that she saw a bluebottle fly trying to seek sustenance from the bell-like flowers on the shrine — it tried and tried to find nectar, but its search was fruitless, for the flowers were fake. This is just like us trying to find happiness in this and in that. Buddha has said that there is no happiness inhering in any of the things we chase after.  Real happiness is a life that is not Man smelling flowercontrolled by uncontrolled desire.  A life of compassion and wisdom will bring that happiness now and in the future. Of course, she pointed out, we do engage in normal activities; but if we remember that none of these activities in themselves can bring us happiness, we won’t be disappointed when they fail. Buddha is suggesting that we stop giving our energy to things that cannot give us happiness and instead give our energy to things that can. We can make ourself happy all the time. We need the pure happiness that comes from a pure or positive mind. And when we gain this happiness, we will be able to give others real happiness too.

Time to choose

Thinking about this, it seems clear we have to make a decision. It is hard and discouraging to have one foot on samsara’s path and the other on the path to liberation. Those paths are going in opposite directions, so we end up doing the splits. If we know and are convinced where happiness comes from, we can stay on the liberating path, regardless of where our daily life activities take us from month to month.

But a word of caution – it’s good to lighten up when we think about these things, not get all heavy. Attachment and disappointment and other delusions weigh us down – the decision to stay on the liberating path on the other hand is a light mind, free from the extremes of excitement and despondency. Have you ever been at a long, tedious party where you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself, but you’re actually not? And then you decide to leave, and how great it feels to stop pretending that it is all such good fun, and you step out lightly and with relief into the fresh air? Renunciation is a bit like that. We don’t need to take ourselves or our delusions too seriously as we work to overcome them, we don’t need to give them more power over us than they normally have. They are just clouds in the vast limitless sky-like space of our mind.boring party

Is it possible to have some happiness from the inside but also at least a little bit from the outside? That question needs thinking about. For one thing, we do need good human conditions, and Geshe Kelsang has said we need to avoid the extreme attitude of abandoning these. These days, in particular, we need a normal life — we generally can’t just run off and hide in a cave, no one would understand or support that. We also need the so-called “happiness of humans and gods”, for it is far easier to be happy in the human realm than in the lower realms. So it may be easier to frame the question in terms of where we feel happiness really comes from.

It’s easy to try to really look for it in both our mind and outer enjoyments – “Ooh, I’m all meditated and Buddhisted out, I need to relax and watch a movie!” There’s nothing wrong with a movie per se, it can teach us the truth of Dharma, help us develop empathy for others’ stories, for example; but there is something misleading in thinking that our happiness comes from the side of the movie as opposed to from our own states of mind. External things such as movies and dancing can make us happy if our mind is peaceful or blissful, but not if it is not. The endless frustration in samsara – such as failing to satisfy our desires and the other samsaric sufferings listed by Buddha — are all coming from uncontrolled desire, thinking that the holy grail of happiness is out there somewhere.

Who do you belong to?

As an example of trying to get happiness by following both a path motivated by delusions and a liberating path at the same time, I was thinking of the example of believing that our happiness comes from love AND from attachment. Lets say you’re an aspiring Bodhisattva, for example, who loves the idea of belonging to the world and making everyone happy, and who knows how great love always makes you feel. But at the same time you feel the need out of attachment or isolation arising from self-grasping to belong to just one person or a few people. This can cause a contradiction and a tension in the mind. This to-ing and fro-ing blocks us or slows us down — we digress, we get distracted, we take our eye off the ball, we don’t know where to put ourselves, we get discouraged in our ability to make ourselves and others happy.love breaks chains

Is it really possible to make both love and attachment work at the same time as real causes of our happiness? For one thing, is it possible to love unconditionally if we have fear in our heart? Yet uncontrolled desire makes us fearful, for example of losing. So it seems we have to choose – does happiness come from following the path of love OR the path of attachment? I think we need to make our life bigger, not reduce it to a poky life of attachment.

Not saying it is not a work in progress, we cannot abandon our delusions overnight obviously, that is not possible; but for one thing we don’t have to keep identifying with them, and for another we need to know from our own experience where happiness comes from if we are to make a firm decision to follow the blissful liberating path and generally stay on it.

A liberating path

Back to what Gen-la said, if we wanted to get to Paris from here, we would need to know the correct path. It’s the same for happiness, what are the correct spiritual paths or spiritual trainings leading to happiness? Examples would be renunciation, universal compassion, and the wisdom realizing the way things really are, or emptiness. The reason these paths lead to happiness is because we learn to control our delusions, controlling our own anger and attachment, controlling our self-grasping ignorance. Our delusions function to disturb our inner peace, so we have to give up on them if we are to experience real happiness. We don’t need to give up our usual daily activities, we just need to give up our delusions.this way or that way

Have you noticed how problems are everywhere all the time? They may surprise us every day, seeming to come out of nowhere, as anomalies, causing us to shake our heads “Oh dear, how did THIS happen?!”; but in fact they pervade our lives. Wherever we turn, whoever we talk to, delusions and karma are causing people problems.

For example, I talked to one of my brothers yesterday, it had been a few months. He told me almost by way of small talk that his company was in liquidation this week, his father-in-law had just suffered from a heart attack, and a vulnerable elderly person we both knew was being taken advantage of financially. He was making the best of it, and looking on the bright side (“No more overheads! Only a small heart attack! She doesn’t care that she is being fleeced!”), as we do, especially when we are trying to be stoical. (And people are remarkably brave, I find.) But it showed me, yet again, for the billionth time, that we don’t have to scratch deep beneath the surface of samsara’s sometimes seeming okayness to see that, no matter what we do, samsara doesn’t work very well for us at all. It never has. It never will.

Samsara is not by nature benign with the occasional unexpected setback thrown in. Our karma and delusions are ALWAYS out to get us!

I observe that a lot of people feel as if something is missing in their life, they know that happiness doesn’t really come from external activities; and this is especially the case as we get older and the things we were turning to work less and less, including our own health and energy and even the simple ability to stay awake and chat. But sometimes people don’t know where else to look. This is one reason, as Gen-la Dekyong said, why Geshe Kelsang has established centers all over the world so that people can learn about renunciation, universal compassion, the wisdom realizing emptiness, and the bliss and creative power of Tantra, or the “unmistaken Dharma of Lamrim, Lojong, and Mahamudra.” Through the centers, teachings, books, festivals, all this knowledge can be ours. And if we apply this knowledge, our life itself can become the liberating path while we go about our normal daily activities.

Happiness from the inside out

Escape to reality

People often decide they’ll learn to meditate once they see the connection between inner peace and feeling good or happy.rainbow in clouds

But sometimes people misunderstand “happiness depends on inner peace” to mean that, when they meditate, Buddhists and so on are just trying to find some peace by escaping from reality. Nothing could be further from the truth. We use meditation to become fully engaged both with our reality and with others’ reality. Peace is not just about switching off and ignoring whatever is going on. It’s about waking up to reality. Therefore, peaceful minds are peaceful, but they’re also meaningful.

Where do you look for happiness?

When we go to Buddhist meditation classes, or read some books, it is not too long before we discover that Buddha taught that happiness comes from within. And we nod our heads in agreement and perhaps even tell others about it. But if we examine where we put all our time and energy, where we try to find happiness, this’ll give us a good indication of what we really believe about where our happiness comes from, regardless of the words coming out of our mouth. And it could well be that we still believe that it is to be found out there, somewhere. “If I get this right I’ll be happy” – if I just get this piece of pizza, this promotion, this pay raise, this boyfriend, this GPS…

directionally challengedActually, when I was given my first GPS, a Magellan, back in San Francisco where I was based about 8 years ago, I confess that for a while there I thought I might finally have stumbled upon the one thing in the entire universe that was capable of making me happy. That navigator revolutionized my entire existence! For years I had been saying to people that happiness didn’t depend on externals, and now I was realizing that it did! After years of being directionally challenged, to put it mildly, more like directionally demented, I drove around San Francisco like some crazy woman, and found my way everywhere with absolutely no difficulty whatsoever.

At the time I had to think quite hard about why Lady Magellan wasn’t a source of happiness from her own side – the only lame thing I could come up with was that although she got me places, she didn’t guarantee I enjoyed those places once I was there. (Admittedly, this was before she started to become a bit perverse and peevish and send me on some very odd detours, once even suggesting I drive off a cliff.)

Why am I fessing up to this? It’s because sometimes (often!) I do have to think hard about why someone or something is not capable from their own side of giving me happiness. If I dig deeper, I can see how this is the case, but it is not always immediately obvious, which is why I fall for external sources of happiness over and over again.

Have you found anything that from its own side is capable of giving you happiness, without its depending on the mind?

Where do you look for inner peace?

value of somethingWhereas we do often think that the causes of happiness lie outside the mind, when it comes to peace I think we have more of a sense that peace is an inner state of mind, and we have to work on our mind to get it. “If I want to be peaceful, my mind has to be peaceful.” I never thought, for example, that Lady Magellan could give rise to inner peace. I think it makes more sense to us to think of cultivating peace of mind, whereas when we use the word “pursuing happiness” it seems to suggest more about rearranging things externally. Just a little more Mozzarella on the pizza, or if only my kitten would stop throwing up, I’ll be happy. Happiness is out there and so we have to go out there and get it.

Joining the dots… happiness comes from inner peace, nowhere else

So it is very helpful to understand the relationship between peace and happiness – it helps us join the dots and change priorities. If we knew for sure that happiness depends on inner peace as opposed to external sources, we would find the energy to train in it. With inner peace, we can be happy all the time, no matter what is going on in our world. Without it, if our mind is troubled, we cannot find a moment’s happiness, even if we are magically transported to a fabulous tropical paradise surrounded by all our dearest friends. External conditions can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful.

Happiness come from the inside out, not the outside in.

Japanese-Tea-Garden-San-FranciscoFor example, San Francisco is a very beautiful city. I know, because I drove around it like a crazy woman and saw lots of touristy things, like the Japanese Tea Garden. But it is still going to entirely depend on our frame of mind whether we’re going to enjoy that Japanese Garden or find it, “Boooring! I’m hungry. Where’s my lunch?” If our mind is elsewhere, nothing takes: “I wish my boss would give me a break”, or “I’m so stressed out about that stupid deadline”, then a brief, “Oh, nice Bonsai tree”, then “I can’t believe what that woman said to me…” If our mind is churning and unpeaceful, we can be in one of the most beautiful corners of this planet and it can still be just “Bleahh!”, not making us happier at all. Many of us do live in a beautiful corner of this planet, but are we happy all the time? There are literally countless examples like this.

Everyone wants to be happy all the time. I can’t remember the last time I woke up in the morning thinking, “I hope I have a really miserable day”… Yet, without choice, we often do have a miserable day. This is because happiness is just not going to happen if we are not peaceful inside, regardless of which external source we turn to. Happiness comes from the inside out. We’ve got that backwards at the moment. We’ve tried it from the outside in for a very long time – months, years, decades, possibly half a century or more. And we’ll go on like this until we realize that happiness is not coming from there. That we won’t find happiness out there because happiness is a state of mind and it depends on inner peace, peace of mind. And, in fact, there is nothing out there!

A clearly defined path to peace and happiness

happiness comes from withinMeditation redresses this issue. The Western word “happiness” comes from the Icelandic word “luck”. We are happy by chance, when things suddenly go our way or we receive a windfall; and then something goes wrong and we are randomly unhappy again. But according to Buddhism, by contrast, there’s a clearly defined path to happiness, and this involves training in improving our peaceful and positive minds.

Over to you: In the comments, let us know if you have managed to find a real external source of happiness, so we can all go out and buy one …