It is extremely important that we make an effort to lead a spiritual life while, as human beings, we have the opportunity to pursue inner methods that bring peace of mind.
It is common experience that happiness does not arise from external factors alone. If we check carefully into our own daily lives, we will easily see that this is true. In addition to external factors, there are also inner factors that come into play to establish happiness within us.
In India, for example, there are many pandits, highly realized yogis and even simple Dharma practitioners who live humble lives but have great peace of mind. The more they have renounced the unsubdued mind, the greater is their peace; the more they have renounced self-cherishing, anger, ignorance, attachment and so forth, the greater is their happiness.
Great masters such as the Indian pandit Naropa and the Tibetan yogi Jetsun Milarepa owned nothing yet had incredible peace of mind. They were able to renounce the unsubdued mind, the source of all problems, and thus transcended all suffering. By actualizing the path to enlightenment they achieved a superior happiness. Thus, even though they often had to go days without food—the great yogi Milarepa lived for years in a cave subsisting only on wild nettles—they rank among the happiest people on Earth. Because they abandoned the three poisonous minds of ignorance, attachment and anger, their peace and happiness was indeed great. The more they renounced the unsubdued mind, the greater was their peace.
If happiness depended on only material development, rich countries such as America would be very happy places. Many people try to follow the American way of life, thinking it will bring them happiness, but personally, I find greater peace in more spiritually-minded countries such as India and Nepal. These are much happier countries, more peaceful for the mind. When I return to India after traveling in the West, it’s like coming home. There are so many differences. India is actually a very spiritual country and this makes a great difference to the mind.
When you look at materialistic societies and the way people live, your own mind gets disturbed. The people there are increasingly busy, and new and different problems continually arise; they’re tense and nervous and have no time to relax. In India, you see people relaxing all over the place, but in the West, you pick up the vibration of the population’s agitated minds and finish up feeling nervous yourself. If happiness depended solely on external development, countries like Switzerland and America would be the most peaceful places on Earth, with less quarreling, fighting and violence, but they’re not like that.
This proves that there is something lacking in the way the West seeks happiness. Materially, developed countries may be on top of the world but many problems continue to destroy their peace and happiness. What is missing? It is inner development; external development is pursued to the exclusion of inner development, development of the mind. It’s a huge mistake to focus solely on material progress while ignoring development of the mind, the good heart. This is the world’s greatest mistake.
In itself, material progress is not bad and is to be encouraged, but inner development is much more important. You can’t even compare the two—inner development is a trillion times more effective than external development in producing lasting happiness. You’ll find neither peace nor happiness if you neglect to develop the mind. The good heart brings peace of mind. By all means, develop the material world, but at the same time, develop the mind. If you compare the peace of mind gained through material things to that generated by the good heart—by compassion, love, patience, and the elimination of the violent, unsubdued mind—the superior value of the latter is overwhelming.
Patience vs. anger
Even if you owned a pile of diamonds the size of this Earth, the peace you’d get from that would be minimal and could never compare with that afforded by inner development. No matter how many jewels you own, you’re still beset by mental problems such as anger, attachment and so forth. If somebody insults you, for example, you immediately get angry and start to think of ways to harm, insult or hurt that person.
If you are a person of inner development, you react quite differently. You think, “How would I feel if he got angry with me, insulted me and hurt my mind? I’d be really upset and unhappy. Therefore, I shouldn’t be negative towards him. If I get angry and insult him, he’ll get terribly upset and unhappy, just as I would in the same situation. How can I do that to him?” This is the way you should think; this is the way of inner development, the true path to peace.
When my friend says or does something to me that I dislike and discomfort and anger start to grow in my mind, I may want to retaliate by saying something hurtful. But instead, I should gather my awareness, be skillful and brave, and think, “How can I be angry with my friend? How can I say painful things to her? How can I bring her harm? If she got violent with me, how unhappy I would be, how it would disturb my mind, how it would hurt me. Therefore, to harm this friend who, just like me, wants happiness and does not want suffering, would be most shameful. What kind of person would I be if I acted like that?”
When you think like that, your anger, which at first seems to be as solid as stone, disappears like a popped water bubble. At first it seems that there’s no way you can change your mind, but when you use the right method, when you meditate like this, your anger vanishes, just like that. You don’t see the point of getting angry.
When you practice patience, you try not to let your anger arise; you try to remember how it disturbs your mind, destroys your happiness, disturbs others’ minds and happiness, and doesn’t help at all. As you practice patience, your face becomes beautiful. Anger makes you really ugly. When anger enters a beautiful face, no amount of make-up can hide the complete ugliness that manifests. You can see anger in people’s faces; you can recognize it. You become afraid of anger just by looking at the terrifying face of an angry person. That is the reflection of anger. It’s a very bad vibration to give off. It makes everybody unhappy.
The real practice of Dharma, the real meditation, is never to harm others. This protects both your own peace of mind and that of other beings. This is true religious practice; it brings benefit to both yourself and others. Practicing patience in this way even once is worth more than any amount of diamonds. What kind of inner peace can you derive from diamonds? All you do is run the risk of being killed for them. The value of the good heart is beyond compare with that of any material possession.
Since we want only happiness and no suffering, it is extremely important for us to practice Dharma. Dharma is not chanting, doing rituals or wearing uniforms; it’s developing the mind, the inner factor. We have many different inner factors: negative ones, such as the unsubdued mind, ignorance, delusions and so forth; and positive ones, such as love, compassion, wisdom and the like. Dharma practice is the destruction of our negative mental factors and the cultivation of our positive ones.
Linguistically, the word “dharma” means “existent phenomenon,” but when we say, “the practice of Dharma,” or “holy Dharma,” it means that which protects us from suffering. That is the meaning of the holy Dharma; that is the Dharma we should practice.
There are many different levels of suffering from which we require protection. Dharma is like a rope thrown to somebody about to fall over a precipice. It protects and holds us from falling into the realms of suffering—the worlds of the hell beings, hungry ghosts and animals.
A second level of suffering from which the holy Dharma protects us is that of the entirety of samsaric suffering—that of all six realms—and its cause: the disturbing negative minds and the karma they cause us to create.
Finally, the holy Dharma also protects us from the self-cherishing thought and the subtle obscurations that prevent us from attaining enlightenment, the state of buddhahood—the highest sublime happiness. As long as the self-cherishing thought remains in our mind there’s no way we can achieve buddhahood; the path to sublime happiness is blocked. Self-cherishing is the greatest hindrance to happiness and enlightenment. If we practice Dharma, we’ll find protection from the disturbances that the self-cherishing thought creates and will quickly receive enlightenment.
Death is followed by the intermediate state, after which we take rebirth in one of the six realms. Rebirth, life, death, intermediate state, rebirth again: we constantly circle on this wheel of life, repeatedly experiencing confusion and suffering because of impure conceptions and views. When we practice Dharma, we’re guided and protected from the impure conceptions and views that constantly keep us bound to samsaric suffering. Dharma practice helps us at many levels.
Identifying the problem
The problem is that our body and mind are in the nature of suffering; they are not beyond suffering. This is the whole problem. As a result, we are constantly busy. Why is our body in the nature of suffering? It’s because our mind is in the nature of suffering; our mind is not liberated from suffering because it is not liberated from the unsubdued minds of ignorance, attachment, anger and their actions, karma. Therefore, its nature is one of suffering. Thus, in turn, our body suffers.
Without choice, our body is subject to the sufferings of heat, cold, hunger, thirst, birth, old age, sickness and so forth. We don’t have to seek out these sufferings; they come to us naturally and we have to experience them. All this is because we have not liberated our mind from suffering. Our country is not samsara; our city is not samsara; our family is not samsara—samsara is the body and mind that are in the nature of suffering; the body and mind that constantly make us worry and keep us busy. Samsara is the body and mind that are bound by the delusion and karma.
Samsara is a cycle, a wheel. Its function is to circle. How does it circle? Our aggregates—our body and mind—continue from this life into the next; they connect our past life to this one and this life to the future one. They always continue, always join one life to the next. They create an ongoing circle; like the wheels of a bicycle, they always take us to different places. We are the subject who circles, like the person who rides the bike. Our self is like that. We circle on and on, from life to life, taking rebirth in accordance with how we have lived our life, the karma we have created and our general state of mind. Dependent upon these factors, we take rebirth as an animal, a human, a god, a hell being and so forth. Our aggregates carry us like a horse carries a rider.
The problem is that from beginningless time throughout all our previous lifetimes we did not do the work necessary to liberate our mind from the unsubdued minds and karma. Therefore, our mind and body are still in the nature of suffering; we’re still experiencing the same problems over and over again. Had we liberated ourselves from the unsubdued minds and karma we would never have to suffer again; it would be impossible. Once we’re free from samsaric suffering, from the bondage of karma and the unsubdued mind, we can never suffer again; no cause remains for us to experience further suffering. If we’d liberated ourselves before, there’d be no reason for us to suffer now; our mind and body would not be in the nature of suffering.
If we didn’t have a samsaric body, we wouldn’t need a house, clothing, food or other temporal needs. There’d be no need to worry, make preparations, collect many possessions, chase money, have hundreds of different clothes to wear in the different seasons, have hundreds of shoes, make business and so forth. We’d have none of these problems. But we do have a samsaric body, therefore our entire life, from rebirth to death, is kept busy taking care of it.
If you do not think of the evolution of samsara, you will not know how to sever its root.
For example, let’s say there’s a person who is always sick because he eats the wrong food. As long as he doesn’t recognize the mistake in his diet, the cause of his sickness, he will continue to be sick no matter how much medicine he takes. Similarly, if we don’t understand the evolutionary patterns of samsara, there’ll be no way for us to receive the peace of nirvana that we seek. To do this, we must cut the root of samsara; to do that, we must know the correct methods; to know the methods, we must recognize what causes us to be bound to samsara. By realizing what binds us to samsara, we can generate aversion for and renunciation of the causes of samsaric existence.
To understand the evolution of samsara we must understand the twelve links of interdependent origination, or dependent arising, that clearly explain how we circle in samsara. How did our present samsara—these aggregates in the nature of suffering—come into being? In a past life, out of ignorance, we accumulated the karma to be born in this human body. A split second before our previous life’s death, craving and grasping—not wanting to leave the body, not wanting to separate from that life—arose. We were then born in the intermediate state, and after that our consciousness entered our mother’s womb. The resultant embryo grew and our senses gradually developed. Then contact and responsive feelings came into existence. Now our rebirth has occurred, we are aging, and all that remains for us to experience is death.
In this life there is no peace, from the time we are born until we die. We continually go through much suffering as human beings: the pain of birth; dissatisfaction with our situation; undesirable experiences; worries; fear of separation from desirable objects, friends, relatives, and possessions; sickness; old age and death. All these problems come from karma, and karma comes from ignorance. Therefore, the one root of samsara is ignorance, the ignorance of mistaking the nature of “I,” the self, which is empty of true existence—although our “I” is empty of true existence, we completely believe that it is truly existent, as we project. By totally eradicating this ignorance, we put a final end to our beginningless suffering and attain nirvana.
The path that repays the kindness of all sentient beings
In order to do this, we must follow a true path. However, it is not enough that we ourselves attain nirvana because that benefits only one person. There are numberless sentient beings, all of whom have been our mother, father, sister and brother in our infinite previous lives. There is not one single sentient being who has not been kind to us in one life or another. Even in this life, much of our happiness is received in dependence upon the kindness of others, not only humans—many animals work hard and suffer for our happiness; many die or are killed for us. For example, in order to produce rice in a field, many people work and suffer under the sun, many creatures are killed and so forth. The happiness of each day of our life completely depends on the kindness of other sentient beings.
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