5.5 mins read
At the very beginning of How to Transform Your Life, on page 3 to be precise, and maybe just in case people don’t read any further, the author Geshe Kelsang Gyatso evokes the heart of the Buddhist mind-training teachings – which is basically to get over ourselves and be concerned about others instead.
The author asks:
Since this world evolved, human beings have spent almost all their time and energy improving external conditions in their search for happiness and a solution to their problems. What has been the result?
We can pause to answer that question, perhaps coming up with something along these lines:
Instead of their wishes being fulfilled, human suffering and problems have continued to increase while the experience of happiness and peace is decreasing.
If we agree with this at all, what does it show us? = That our methods are clearly not working. Which means we need to change them up.
Built into the mind-set of ordinary people is grasping at a real Me who is important. The effect of this is that our wishes are very important. And this leads to attachment, or uncontrolled desire, wishing to fulfill our wishes all day and all night. This is not a good set up because our wishes cannot all be fulfilled, and certainly cannot stay fulfilled, and so we end up stressed, disappointed, angry, depressed, and so on.
Self-cherishing makes everything about me. Maybe someone brings up a topic not related to us, such as their vacation in Mexico where we have never been, and we still manage to somehow make it about us, “I was on vacation once!” And because we make everything about us we do not have the happiness we long for.
We must understand this through our own experience. If we check carefully how we are experiencing problems and unhappiness, we can understand that they are all created by our uncontrolled desire, wishing ourself to be happy all the time.
Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong at all with being happy or even the basic wish to be happy — quite the opposite. Buddhas are really really happy, for example. But wishing me to be happy all the time, putting me first, is what is getting in the way of fulfilling this basic wish.
We are misunderstanding where happiness comes from, thinking that it is about me and about manipulating stuff out there. When it is not.
Self-cherishing sets us up for disappointment. Try checking its psychology out in reverse next time you feel annoyed or disappointed. “I’m annoyed. Why? Because I was attached to something happening or not happening and it didn’t. Why was I attached to that? Because my wishes are so important. Why? Because I am.”
Most of our energy is going into ourselves because we are so super-duper important – how is MY life, MY diet, MY weather, accommodation, job, relationship, etc etc. This Me Me Me mind would be fine if it worked, but it doesn’t make us happy, it doesn’t solve our problems, and it doesn’t lead us to enlightenment. We have been trying and testing it for many years — since beginningless time, if Buddha is to be believed — and it hasn’t worked yet.
So we have to flip this around. Flip a switch! Just stop it!!! And wish for others to be happy all the time instead!!!
By stopping this wish and instead wishing for others to be happy all the time, we will not have any problems or unhappiness at all.
The irony is that when we stop wishing for ourselves to be happy all the time and instead wish for others to be happy all the time, we become the happiest person alive.
If we check all the times we are unhappy we shall see that we have excessive self-concern. Psychologically, samsara is the experience of the Me minds of self-grasping and self-cherishing — we are trapped in the Me of it all, an ego prison.
A fish doesn’t notice it is wet and we usually don’t notice that we are soaked in ego-grasping. But this stopping practice helps us with our mindfulness and alertness throughout the day. It is strong, quick, and effective medicine. We can ask ourselves “Who are you thinking about? Stop it!!!”
We can then think about anybody at all and wish for them to be happy all the time, providing they are somebody other than us.
We can also bear in mind that I am only one single person and the reality is that there are billions or trillions of other living beings, human and otherwise, so of course my happiness is not as important as theirs. If I take this reality on board, I’ll be a lot happier. This is a massive spiritual shift. And it works where nothing else has worked.
If we sincerely practice every day stopping wishing for ourself to be happy all the time and instead wishing for others to be happy all the time, then we will understand from our own experience that through this practice, which prevents attachment to the fulfillment of our own wishes, we will have no experience of problems or unhappiness at all.
I love the simplicity of this practice and the clear injunction to just get on with it. We can try it for a day or half a day or 100 times and see if it works — just Stop It! And wish for others to be happy all the time instead. We can do this experiment on everyone we meet and see if it works. If it doesn’t, we can go back to self-cherishing the very next day. What is there to lose?
The same actions can have a very different meaning through this practice, even giving our whole life a far larger sense of fulfillment, while simultaneously creating the causes or karma for a whole different and better world to appear in the future.
For example, I can eat that grilled veggie sandwich (which I’m about to order in Whittier café) with a boring small-minded motivation, just wolfing it down out of attachment because I want to be happy all the time. Or I can be smart and eat it with the wish to nourish my life so that I can better use it to help others be happy all the time, starting with the friend who is joining me later. Same number of calories maybe, but everything else is different. We can transform all our daily stuff into the path to lasting happiness and mental freedom just by changing our heart.
Our selfish desires are constantly throwing us out of the present moment — we think things like, “I’ll just get this thing out of the way and then I can relax”, simply postponing our joy and feeling vaguely discontented all day. This stopping practice puts us in the present moment and makes every day more fun — being mindful of love is rich and present, and we have no itch to be elsewhere.
There are hundreds of reasons given in this and other books that show why this stopping practice is so effective, but sometimes it’s good to stop analyzing and just get on with something to see if it works. “I am going to try something different.” And the proof will be in the pudding, as they say.
Comments welcome below.
(*Thank you to Gen Rigpa for coining this phrase! If any of you are in LA, be sure to check out his teachings — they’re clear, interesting, and excellent.)