A guest article by a Kadampa Buddhist monk in Texas.
8 mins read.
We can think less! Wouldn’t that be nice? Day in and day out our mind is like fizzy water with so many bubble-like thoughts – we find ourselves thinking annoyed thoughts, unkind thoughts, self-defeating thoughts, random thoughts, and a bunch of other thoughts that we really don’t want to think.
When our mind is scattered like this, our attention is blurred and our natural wisdom is out of focus. Thinking, thinking, thinking, especially about challenging things, we easily overcomplicate matters and find ourselves stuck in indecision or tied in emotional knots. With our thoughts out of our control, we feel kicked about like a pinball in a pinball machine. By reactively pressing the buttons of delusions, we constantly feel disturbed, unpeaceful, and scattered. It’s really not as much fun as we think.
One great meditation to help us settle all that mental movement is called absorption of cessation of gross conceptual thoughts. It’s a special name for the practice of learning not to think so much! Another is simple breathing meditation. As Geshe Kelsang explains in Joyful Path of Good Fortune:
Inappropriate attention is conceptual thought, and breathing meditation temporarily removes all negative conceptual thoughts from our mind, making it calm like water that has become pure and still. Atisha says in Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment:
“Moreover the Blessed One has said: ‘The great ignorance of conceptualization causes us to fall into the ocean of samsara. [A mind] of non-conceptual concentration is free from conception and as clear as space.'”
Amidst all this static we are only trying to be happy! We are trying to be happy all the time. Which really isn’t a problem. Buddha doesn’t say, “Stop trying to be happy all the time! Just deal with it. Suck it up.” Can you imagine Buddha saying this?! I can’t. In fact, Buddha says the opposite.
He says this wish to be happy all the time is our real wish; so why not fulfill it? In reality we are never going to give up this wish. Temporary freedom from problems is too short lived. As Venerable Geshe Kelsang says in Modern Buddhism:
Temporary liberations from particular sufferings are not good enough.
Since this is the case, let’s find lasting happiness. Let’s learn to be happy all the time!
“But hang on”, we might think, “That’s childish!” or “It’s unrealistic to be happy all the time!” Adjusting our expectations, we settle for being unhappy and unfulfilled instead, thinking that’s all there is. We simply try to put up with things and catch some limited happiness where we can.
Where happiness is
Both objections do have some truth to them. But it’s good to ask, “What kind of happiness are we talking about?”
It is fair to say that it’s entirely unrealistic to expect to find lasting happiness if we are looking for it in the wrong place. But lasting happiness itself is not spiritual fantasy. Buddha says it can be so, and many have seen this to be the truth. Buddha is a realist. Buddhism is all about being real. It is about learning to live in accordance with the way things are — reality. And if we look for happiness where it can be found, we will find it.
This is so simple for something so beautiful that maybe we think it has to be harder or more complicated. We can even look at all the extraordinary teachings of Buddha and think that this lasting happiness business sounds pretty complicated and, hmmm, I’m not sure if I want anything more complicated! I agree, who needs more complicated issues in their life!
It’s as simple as this. If you need motor oil and you go to the smelly trees section of the auto parts store, you aren’t going to find motor oil. But that’s just what we do. Or we go over to the windshield wipers section and, exasperated, think, ‘This is ridiculous. No motor oil!” Then we think, “What kind of useless auto parts store is this!?” Frustrated and with a feeling of entitlement we find a store clerk and say, “Excuse me, I’ve been looking all over this store and I can’t find any motor oil anywhere.” They kindly reply, “Oh we have every kind you could need in Aisle 7. Did you look over there?” But we never looked there, even though that’s where it is.
If we look in the right place we will find exactly what we are looking for and more. The thing is, our normal way of looking for happiness is to look outside of ourself. We think, “I’m going to be happy WHEN … I meet someone who makes me laugh. I find success in my career. I lose 20lbs and get a new wardrobe. I go to cool places and have an adventure.” We’re always postponing happiness to a later time, and so are never actually really happy because we’re still seeking it in Aisle #3 in the smelly trees section instead of Aisle #7 where it can be found.
In a way, we are giving over our own power to be happy to someone or something else. We often feel powerless or have a hollow feeling that we can’t quite fill. That happy feeling is elusive, like water in our hands slipping through our fingers. So why don’t we reclaim our power to be really happy? Instead of giving it away, why don’t we take it back? We can find this spiritual power to be happy and fulfilled, an inner power to heal our mind and body. Through meditation we can find it within, grow it, and allow it to shine out to others. We can find a radiant inner resilience, which is like shining armor in the face of conflict and difficulty.
This is not unrealistic or spiritual fantasy. It is clear, logical, and practical. Meditation is not about checking out of reality – it is about checking into the reality of pure happiness. This benefits us, our family, and everyone we meet — and it’s not unrealistic to say that eventually it benefits the entire universe. We are all like cells in the body. So what kind of cell are we going to be?
New paradigm of happiness
I think we need to change our paradigm of happiness. Instead of it being, “I’ll be happy when …,” it can be, “How can I be truly happy inside now?” This way of thinking is not selfish, it is wisdom. Through Buddha’s incredible practicality we can shift our search for happiness 180 degrees, from outside ourselves to inside ourselves. We can find it within our peaceful heart right now.
A simple example is making plans. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now, making it seemingly impossible to plan. But we still have our little daily plans, even if we can’t have the big ones – we plan to have a cup of tea and then a cookie. Yet if things change, even the little plans go out of the window.
That’s happened quite a lot for me recently, and at one point I found myself getting a bit irritated.
“Wait a minute!”, I thought. “Am I trying to find happiness through my plan?! But that’s not where happiness comes from!” Remembering to simply accept and go with the flow, the day turned out to be lovely. This was a helpful experience. I guess this 20 years’ of meditation is getting me somewhere.
Adjust on the fly
Meditation is not just about that quiet moment alone, but being able to adjust on the fly. It’s so important right now as all our plans have been smashed or temporarily interrupted at least. This has happened around the whole world.
A great question to ask is, “Why is my one plan more important than anyone else’s?” We’re all in this together –- as communities, cities, and countries. When we step back and gather perspective, for many of us it’s not too bad and it’s temporary. And as Venerable Geshe Kelsang says, “This is nothing, others far worse.’” Thinking like this we regain our inner peace, which is real happiness. We move into empathy and compassion, which are real protections or spiritual armor.
Meditation on the go is about this. Not getting stuck on what we think happiness is, looking for it where it can’t be found, but remembering in the moment where it really is — inside our peaceful and positive mind.
Re-examining and changing our paradigm of happiness is of great value during these unusual times, and is in fact always invaluable. Many people are naturally thinking about this these days, and understanding the value of contentment. Just because they are not able to do all the things they normally want to do, people are finding some more simplicity, being a bit more satisfied and happy with what is. This inner quality of contentment is something many people are finding naturally. It’s a form of non-attachment, which is central to Buddhism. It’s a form of letting go. Contentment is being happy whether our conditions are good or bad, not depending on those conditions for our happiness.
At the core of our new paradigm is checking into the reality of happiness through meditation. Making meditation central to how we live our lives, not just as an adjunct or fancy addition, we find the reality of pure happiness. We grow in inner peace, contentment, and joy. This power of true happiness shines out to others, helping them find peace too. This shift is so simple yet so profound. And as we keep making these small shifts everyday, things really do change in unexpectedly good ways.
More great advice coming soon from this same monk! Meanwhile, please leave your comments for him in the comments box below.