Changing direction

6 mins read

In Buddhism, we train to solve our own and everybody else’s problems through compassion and wisdom.

This is a bit different to the usual way we try to solve them, to be honest, which is generally through attachment and aversion.IMG_2523.jpg

Out of attachment to a world outside our thoughts, a world in fact projected by our ignorance, we wish and sometimes expect things to turn out a certain way and people to behave a certain way. We’re constantly going outside of ourselves to get what we want and get others to cooperate with our wishes.

But it doesn’t really work, does it? Because we still don’t have everything we want and, even when we do get the things we want, we lose them. And then we get disappointed and upset. Worldly pleasures, as Buddha explained, are like scratching an itch. Indulging in them just satisfies the itch that’s created by our attachment in the first place.

In this way, attachment is a bit of an inner demon, deceiving us; but it’s sometimes hard for us to recognize this because we feel it’s what’s making us happy. This is our habit. We’ve always used our attachment to go out and try and get what we think we want.

And with aversion we try to push away the things out there that seem to be getting in the way of our happiness — people or situations that seem to be threatening us or harming us in any way. And this makes our mind unpeaceful. We don’t like things. We don’t like people, and we want them to behave differently, or go away. We are not in control – we have to push out mentally, verbally, and/or physically.

IMG_2519.jpgWe’ve been doing this since beginningless time, trying to solve our problems with our attachment and aversion, and for that matter all our other delusions too; but it doesn’t seem to be working, does it?! Because here we all are, still probably with the same number of problems we started with this life, or this morning, and still without all the things we want, or, even if we got them, still wanting more.

Newsflash: We cannot solve our problems through our delusions when it is our delusions that are creating our problems in the first place.

So, with Dharma (ie, Buddha’s teachings and the experiences we gain from practicing those teachings) we learn to become what’s called “inner beings”, appreciating more and more that the way to solve our problems is to change our minds. And on one level it may sound obvious, but it can’t be that obvious to us or we’d be doing it all the time. It may be intellectually obvious to us, but at the moment we have the deeply ingrained emotional habit of trying to solve our pain and problems outside of our mind. We try to get what we want by rearranging stuff outside of our mind.

What we need to do is change these habits and approach our problems with wisdom and compassion, which have the power to solve all our problems not just straightaway but permanently.

To get started …

When we start our training in meditation and Dharma, we need first to learn to experience our own inner peace by allowing our minds to relax and settle. Otherwise it is no wonder we feel we have to get our happiness from out there. Even Dharma seems to be something we have to find from out there.

IMG_2524.jpgWhat we come to understand when we start meditating (skillfully) is that Dharma is already within us. We already have the seeds of everything we need inside us, including a naturally peaceful, blissful mind. We may have heard this many times, but sometimes we forget. We also forget that peace equals happiness, and that when our mind is experiencing peace we don’t have problems.

So the very first step is learning to rely on that inner peace — identifying with just how good we feel when we allow our mind to relax and just forget those stupid delusions for awhile. We can do this through breathing meditations, relaxing into our heart, clarity of the mind, and so on. This is the first way we usually taste that freedom, that peace we have inside us. We can relax into it and think:

This is me. I’m home.

We really need to give ourselves a break and, by letting our mind chill out, see how our aversion and attachment settle down a bit, like waves disappearing into the ocean of our root mind. We can let this go. We can let our thoughts go. And when we let our thoughts go, their objects go as well; so for awhile we’re simply free of that problem! We feel peaceful inside, it’s like, “Hey, I don’t have a problem!” If we can just forget it though breathing meditation, we feel COMPLETELY FINE.

IMG_2536-1And it doesn’t matter what the problem is, to be honest. Any problem can be temporarily solved through breathing meditation if we get good at it. Or even if we’re not that good at it. Just by allowing ourself to focus on our breath, or relaxing into our heart, we get a little peace, a little space from that problem. And we stop, at least for a short while, trying to solve those problems OUT THERE, in that most frustrating way we normally have. We relax, we rest, we experience this feeling of contentment and think:

“That’s incredible. I have this peace inside me. I can relax. And, you know what? This indicates that there is so much more where this came from. This is just the beginning of the peace I can experience if I change direction — from trying to solve everything outside myself to just allowing myself to practice these teachings and change my mind. This is only the beginning, but I can rely on it — I can understand that this peace is how I can be feeling all the time, and it is who I am.”


At the moment we are so habituated to following our attachment wherever it takes us, or our aversion trying to solve everything out there all the time. These delusions are what’s shaking up our minds and causing us so much aggravation, pain, frustration, tightness, heaviness, sadness, depression, not to mention negative actions, etc., etc., etc. IT’S OUR DELUSIONS. We get a glimpse into that simply by experiencing some temporary freedom from those delusions. We should really take refuge in that peace, knowing we can always go there.

Then we can arise from that peace with a clearer mind and happier heart, more centered and better able to deal practically with the so-called outer problems that present themselves.

Next installment is here. Meanwhile, your comments are always welcome.

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Delusions be gone!

I had one more article on delusions up my sleeve, quickly finishing off the six causes of delusion as these are so practical. They show how delusions arise in dependence upon other factors and so, if we avoid those factors, we don’t have to experience the delusions.

overcoming delusions and negative mindsFirst it is worth remembering, as always, that it is our dualistic mind of self-grasping that is distorting our reality – reality itself is fine. We grasp at self and we grasp at other, and so we have a problem. And, believing in our own flimsy projection of our limited self, solidifying it, we grasp at negativity and impurity that are not actually there; they are the infrastructure needed to hold up this projection. “How is it even possible for me, me of all people, really to be free from all delusions?! I’m made of them!” we think. Instead of recognizing that the nature of our mind is fundamentally pure, our ego minds project impurity where it does not exist. Without the deep, abiding, confident recognition of and identification with our Buddha nature, although we may try to clean up our acts a little, we cannot help but reify our sense of an impure, unworthy self with the notions that we are deluded now, we will always be moreorless deluded even if we practice meditation, and we will probably die deluded.

 Buddha nature clouds of delusionsLuckily, these deluded projections have no power from their own side to stick because they are not the truth. They are momentary and extrinsic, like clouds in the sky – they can never become part of the pure, spacious, sky-like mind itself. Our own mind has always been naturally pure and brimming with every blissful potential for happiness and liberation, it is pure now, and it will always be pure. What we call delusions are superficial clouds arising from temporary causes and conditions that can be removed. They are fantasy. Once we start to relate on a daily basis to our Buddha nature, everything becomes easier and more joyful, and we find there is in fact no room in our space-like, empty mind for heaviness or mawkishness.

So, that being said, here is a whistle-stop tour of the last three conditions of delusions, explained beautifully in Understanding the Mind. (The first three causes are the seedthe object, and inappropriate attention.)

Cause # 4: Familiarity

Geshe Kelsang says:

The reason we develop delusions naturally, whereas we have to apply effort to cultivate virtuous minds, is that we are very familiar with delusions. ~ Understanding the Mind

Right now, although delusions have no actual leg to stand on in the space of our Buddha nature, following our delusions is the path of least resistance because it is the path we have always trodden. In certain situations, for example, we are always going to get annoyed because we always have. But if we practice patience in that situation, everything will change.

familiarity with delusionsOn a long hike some years ago in Andalucia, I got amazingly lost in the mountains when I followed the goat trails mistaking them for some kind of human path going somewhere useful. As darkness fell, me and my companion, a dog called No No, realized that just because a path is well trodden doesn’t mean it’s the best path to take. Luckily, No No (so-called as he was a very affectionate, grubby stray and everyone in the village was always saying “No, no!” when he jumped up on them) not only stayed perfectly cheerful, but also had a better sense of direction than I, so we got home eventually. Thing is, we have to start treading new, positive paths until they become clearer and easier to follow than the old ones, which will meantime become overgrown through lack of use. We come to the point where it’s easier for us to be patient than to be angry, it’s easier for us to feel love than to feel dislike, it’s easier for us to feel spiritually energetic than to succumb to the laziness of attachment. We even eventually get to the point where we’d have to work at it to develop delusions! Not that we would work at it, but if we wanted them, we’d have to. Imagine! Definitely this will happen.

We know from our own regular day-by-day experience that everything becomes easy with familiarity.  When I first started to drive a car, for example, it seemed almost impossible! In fact, I was relieved, aged 17, when I failed my test because it indicated that there were no drivers like me on the road. I thought I was never going to learn all this stuff! But we do. Next thing we know, we have music playing, we’re talking to other people in our car, we’re eating crisps, (some people these days even seem to be watching TV), and we’re still driving, effortlessly!  Effortlessly. In the same way, when we become familiar with positive minds, they will start to arise effortlessly regardless of what we’re doing. We won’t have to work at it. Until we get to that point, we need to work at it; but the end is in sight.

Cause # 5: Distraction and being influenced by others

We naturally imitate those with whom we associate. ~ Understanding the Mind

In fact, there is nothing wrong at all with having love and compassion and feeling close to everybody, but this cause of delusion seems to be talking about whom we are influenced by, whom we allow ourselves to influenced by; so we can check. If we are coming under the influence of people who are leading us into more delusions, who have no interest in developing their minds, then this will rub off on us. We are a bit like sheep, aren’t we? (Or goats, judging by my example.) Let’s face it, we copy the people around us, and we especially copy the people we admire. (We do it consciously and unconsciously). We don’t much like breaking ranks. That is fine if they are doing good things, but a cause of going backwards if they are not.peer_pressure

Geshe Kelsang talks about this cause of delusion over a couple of pages, there is a lot to it; but what I mainly take from it is that we’re easily influenced by our friends, so either choose good friends and be influenced by them, or make sure we’re not coming under the baleful influence of people doing destructive things. Watch our minds. Don’t succumb to negative peer pressure. Maintain integrity. Just because other people are, for example, engaging in some kind of gossip fest about someone, slandering people, developing angry minds, doesn’t mean we have to join in. That kind of thing. 

Cause # 6: Bad habits

Bad habits are the main cause of strong delusions arising in our mind. ~ Understanding the Mind

Examples given are stealing, sexual misconduct, talking meaninglessly, etc. For example, if we watch a lot of violent movies or play violent video games, thinking, ‘Kill them, kill them, kill them!’, this doesn’t seem very conducive to peaceful, loving minds. We want to check what kind of junk we’re putting in our minds, and see if we can do something about it, in terms of our lifestyle. Because we’ll always justify our lifestyle, even if it’s a bad one, with our delusions. Mmm?

That was just a whistle stop tour. There’s lots more to discover in Understanding the Mind and Joyful Path of Good Fortune.

reality checkSomeone asked me once: “How do we know that the minds like love are not just delusions, good delusions?” Good question. Minds like love and compassion are based on reality, whereas anger and so forth are not. For example, there’s no exaggeration in the mind when you’re wishing someone else to be happy out of love or wishing to protect others from their suffering out of compassion. You have an understanding of what suffering is and a wish for them to be free from it, and there is no exaggeration or inappropriate attention there. Our peaceful, positive minds are in tune with reality and our Buddha nature. Not only do we feel positive and peaceful when we are generating these minds, but they aren’t in any way undermined by our wisdom realizing the way things are. In fact, they are increased by our wisdom, whereas our delusions all automatically diminish as our wisdom improves.

Over to you. Comments welcome.

The six causes of our problems, according to Buddhism

Why do we do the crazy things we do? For our stupidest behavior, we blame bad genes and peer pressure; for the deeds we want to own, we credit a steely sense of purpose or even divine guidance. But a disturbing new force is emerging as a remote driver of our behavior … ~ The Week, March 9 2012

the six causes of our problems according to BuddhismIf we want to get into the driver’s seat and gain control over the direction our life and actions are taking us, it is exceedingly helpful to understand the actual causes of our unpeaceful, uncontrolled states of mind, or so-called delusions, introduced in the last two articles.  Buddha explained these causes to be: (1) the seed, (2) the object, (3) inappropriate attention, (4) familiarity, (5) distraction and being influenced by others, and (6) bad habits. Since these cause our delusions, they also are responsible for our suffering, because there is no suffering without delusions.

But what do we think really causes our delusions and suffering?

“… of our behavior: parasites.” ~ The Week

At the moment we tend to think that happiness comes from out there, and we also think that our problems come from out there. We will generally blame someone, something, anyone, anything, rather than our own states of mind. Even parasites!

what really causes our problems, parasites?A recent story in The Atlantic lays out the chilling case that a microbe called Toxoplasma gondii has infested the brains of as many as 20 per cent of Americans (and 55 per cent of  French people), refashioning neural connections to make us more fearless, more prone to schizophrenia, and – not incidentally – better disposed to cats, in whose guts the parasites reproduce. ~ The Week

Anything that makes 55 percent of my French relatives better disposed to cats is fine by me; however I am quoting this only to show how creative we are at finding new sources for all our woes.

Here’s a simple illustration of casting around outside for something on which to blame our own states of mind. We’re sitting here peacefully reading this article, but now someone walks into the room – someone we are finding a little irritating of late, or with whom we have a complicated relationship. They don’t do a single thing, but they ignore us, and we start to get annoyed. Then they go out again. Our mind starts to calm down.

Let’s analyze this

what causes my problems?Let’s analyze this. Who or what caused that mind of irritation? Usually we’ll say to ourselves something like: “So and so just walked into the room, ignored me, as usual, and then walked out again. He is always ignoring me! That is, when he’s not criticizing me. And he never puts out the garbage, it’s always left to me. What did I ever see in him?” There’s this fantasy playing out. We’ve managed to (re)write the whole history of this person in an astonishingly short period of time – they walked in with the record of past grievances stamped on their forehead.

Maybe they’re just coming into the room to get a pen, or something. Perhaps they’re not ignoring us, they are simply preoccupied with some pressing matter, or don’t want to disturb our peaceful reading. They could be thinking all sorts of things. But we don’t take any of that into account. They walk in, they’re irritating already, and then they ignore us again; and that gets added to the catalog of grievances that they’ve inflicted on us since time began. This person is suddenly Mr. Irritation Number One. We’ve labeled him.

Then, when they leave the room, and we settle back to our reading, the irritation starts to lift. We were happy, then they came in, then we got unhappy, then they left, then we calmed down again ~ isn’t this all proof that they are the source of irritation?! We may smile wryly reading this, but in the heat of the moment that’s what we think, isn’t it?

That’s what it feels like, and that’s why we get irritated with them. Mentally, and then the next time we see them, we cry: “You ignore me, you’re always ignoring me, and I hate you! You make my life miserable! You do! If you were out of my life I’d be happy and confident all the time.  Look at you, you walked out of the room and I became happy again.”

inappropriate attention and delusionsActually the source of our unhappiness is our own so-called inappropriate attention (the third of the six causes). We think of all of their faults and exaggerate them, and edit out any of their good qualities, until we can’t remember why we ever married them, and now we need a divorce. All of this is going on in our mind, and meanwhile our old friend just came in because he needed to write something down and didn’t see us.

We’re doing it all the time, aren’t we? We’re actually thinking the causes of our irritation do lie in other things or other people. And we think it’s perfectly okay, normal, and reasonable to assume that – that is what everybody else does. What’s wrong with it?


let go of what you think you knowWell, what’s wrong with it is that we’re utterly enfeebling ourselves. We’re giving the key to our happiness away to someone else. We’re saying, “My happiness actually depends on you. I need you to come into this room and be nice to me. If you’re not, I’m going to get irritated and mad.” We are surrendering our happiness to the whims, behavior, and attitudes of others. We are disempowering ourselves. We have lost control over our own peace of mind and therefore our own happiness due to misdiagnosing the causes of our own suffering, unhappiness, irritation, and delusion.

(Someone once asked me about another more extreme example — say a person came up to you and hit you, would you then have a legitimate reason to be upset? I replied that we could say that it was perfectly normal and reasonable to get upset, and so on and so forth, but the fact remains that by allowing ourselves to get upset, we compound the injury, whereas if we manage to stay peaceful, un-upset, in that instance where is the problem? You are still relinquishing control to the other person by letting them hurt you mentally. Of course we need to work our way up to being able to stay un-rattled in situations like this, but simply knowing that we are never really free whilst we feel entirely dependent on others’ behavior is a good starting point for practice.)

This is one major reason why we’re not as happy as we would like to be, why we continue to suffer, why we continue to experience unhappiness. It is because we’re not in control – we allow everything and everybody to get to us. But what is actually getting to us is our own delusions.

My parasites made me do it

Winston Churchill and his catTo James Graff of The Week’s credit, he didn’t seem to buy into the parasite thing either. I’ll let him have the last word:

The idea that the evolutionary drive of microbes can trump the human will is deeply depressing. Was that Winston Churchill standing up for Western civilization, or just parasites he caught from his ginger tabby, Jock? I say we just can’t go there. We have to draw a line in the cerebrum and lay claim to our own fates. “My parasites made me do it” is an even lamer excuse for foolishness than “I’m having a bad day.” So I hereby declare responsibility not only for my own actions, but for those of my entire biosystem. I urge you and all humanity to join me. Or should I say us? ~ The Week

Your turn: What causes your delusions (really)? Examples welcome!