We generally believe that external conditions such as food, friends, cars, and money are the real causes of happiness, and as a result we devote nearly all our time and energy to acquiring these. Superficially it seems that these things can make us happy, but if we look more deeply we shall see that they also bring us a lot of suffering and problems.
Happiness and suffering are opposites, so if something is a real cause of happiness it cannot give rise to suffering. If food, money, and so forth really are causes of happiness, they can never be causes of suffering; yet we know from our own experience that they often do cause suffering. For example, one of our main interests is food, but the food we eat is also the principal cause of most of our ill health and sickness.
In the process of producing the things we feel will make us happy, we have polluted our environment to such an extent that the very air we breathe and the water we drink now threaten our health and well-being. We love the freedom and independence a car can give us, but the cost in accidents and environmental destruction is enormous.
We feel that money is essential for us to enjoy life, but the pursuit of money also causes immense problems and anxiety. Even our family and friends, with whom we enjoy so many happy moments, can also bring us a lot of worry and heartache.
In recent years our understanding and control of the external world have increased considerably, and as a result we have witnessed remarkable material progress; but there has not been a corresponding increase in human happiness.
There is no less suffering in the world today, and there are no fewer problems. Indeed, it could be said that there are now more problems and greater unhappiness than ever before. This shows that the solution to our problems, and to those of society as a whole, does not lie in knowledge or control of the external world.
Why is this? Happiness and suffering are states of mind, and so their main causes cannot be found outside the mind. The real source of happiness is inner peace. If our mind is peaceful, we shall be happy all the time, regardless of external conditions, but if it is disturbed or troubled in any way, we shall never be happy, no matter how good our external conditions may be.
External conditions can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful. We can understand this through our own experience. For instance, even if we are in the most beautiful surroundings and have everything we need, the moment we get angry any happiness we may have disappears. This is because anger has destroyed our inner peace.
We can see from this that if we want true, lasting happiness we need to develop and maintain a special experience of inner peace. The only way to do this is by training our mind through spiritual practice – gradually reducing and eliminating our negative, disturbed states of mind and replacing them with positive, peaceful states.
Eventually, through continuing to improve our inner peace we shall experience permanent inner peace, or ‘nirvana’. Once we have attained nirvana we shall be happy throughout our life, and in life after life. We shall have solved all our problems and accomplished the true meaning of our human life.
The mind, on the other hand, is not a physical object. It cannot be seen with the eyes, nor can it be photographed or repaired by surgery. The brain, therefore, is not the mind but simply part of the body.
There is nothing within the body that can be identified as being our mind because our body and mind are different entities. For example, sometimes when our body is relaxed and immobile, our mind can be very busy, darting from one object to another. This indicates that our body and mind are not the same entity.
In Buddhist scriptures, our body is compared to a guest house and our mind to a guest dwelling within it. When we die, our mind leaves our body and goes to the next life, just like a guest leaving a guest house and going somewhere else.
If the mind is not the brain, nor any other part of the body, what is it? It is a formless continuum that functions to perceive and understand objects. Because the mind is formless, or non-physical, by nature, it is not obstructed by physical objects.
It is very important to be able to distinguish disturbed states of mind from peaceful states. As explained in the previous chapter, states of mind that disturb our inner peace, such as anger, jealousy, and desirous attachment, are called ‘delusions’; and these are the principal causes of all our suffering.
We may think that our suffering is caused by other people, by poor material conditions, or by society, but in reality it all comes from our own deluded states of mind. The essence of spiritual practice is to reduce and eventually to eradicate altogether our delusions, and to replace them with permanent inner peace. This is the real meaning of our human life.
The essential point of understanding the mind is that liberation from suffering cannot be found outside the mind. Permanent liberation can be found only by purifying the mind. Therefore, if we want to become free from problems and attain lasting peace and happiness we need to increase our knowledge and understanding of the mind.
For a deeper understanding of the nature and functions of the mind, see the book, Understanding the Mind
There are even some people who contemplate committing suicide in the hope that if they die their problems and sufferings will come to an end. These ideas, however, are completely wrong.
As already explained, our body and mind are separate entities, and so even though the body disintegrates at death, the continuum of the mind remains unbroken. Instead of ceasing, the mind simply leaves the present body and goes to the next life.
For ordinary beings, therefore, rather than releasing us from suffering, death only brings new sufferings. Not understanding this, many people destroy their precious human life by committing suicide.
We can gain an understanding of past and future lives by examining the process of sleeping, dreaming, and waking, because this closely resembles the process of death, intermediate state, and rebirth.
When we fall asleep, our gross inner winds gather and dissolve inwards, and our mind becomes progressively more and more subtle until it transforms into the very subtle mind of the clear light of sleep. While the clear light of sleep is manifest, we experience deep sleep, and to others we resemble a dead person. When it ends, our mind becomes gradually more and more gross and we pass through the various levels of the dream state. Finally, our normal powers of memory and mental control are restored and we wake up. When this happens, our dream world disappears and we perceive the world of the waking state.
A very similar process occurs when we die. As we die, our inner winds dissolve inwards and our mind becomes progressively more and more subtle until the very subtle mind of the clear light of death becomes manifest. The experience of the clear light of death is very similar to the experience of deep sleep.
After the clear light of death has ceased, we experience the stages of the intermediate state, or ‘bardo’ in Tibetan, which is a dream-like state that occurs between death and rebirth. After a few days or weeks, the intermediate state ends and we take rebirth. Just as when we wake from sleep, the dream world disappears and we perceive the world of the waking state, so, when we take rebirth, the appearances of the intermediate state cease and we perceive the world of our next life.
The only significant difference between the process of sleeping, dreaming, and waking and the process of death, intermediate state, and rebirth is that after the clear light of sleep has ceased, the relationship between our mind and our present body remains intact, whereas after the clear light of death this relationship is broken. By contemplating this, we can gain conviction in the existence of past and future lives.
Extracted from Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
The law of karma explains why each individual has a unique mental disposition, a unique physical appearance, and unique experiences. These are the various effects of the countless actions that each individual has performed in the past. We cannot find any two people who have created exactly the same history of actions throughout their past lives, and so we cannot find two people with identical states of mind, identical experiences, and identical physical appearances.
Each person has a different individual karma. Some people enjoy good health while others are constantly ill. Some people are very beautiful while others are very ugly. Some people have a happy disposition that is easily pleased while others have a sour disposition and are rarely delighted by anything. Some people easily understand the meaning of spiritual teachings while others find them difficult and obscure.
Karma means ‘action’, and refers to the actions of our body, speech, and mind. Every action we perform leaves an imprint, or potentiality, on our very subtle mind, and each imprint eventually gives rise to its own effect.
Our mind is like a field, and performing actions is like sowing seeds in that field. Virtuous actions sow seeds of future happiness, and non-virtuous actions sow seeds of future suffering. The seeds we have sown in the past remain dormant until the conditions necessary for their germination come together. In some cases this can be many lifetimes after the original action was performed.
It is because of our karma or actions that we are born in this impure, contaminated world and experience so many difficulties and problems. Our actions are impure because our mind is contaminated by the inner poison of self-grasping. This is the fundamental reason why we experience suffering.
Suffering is created by our own actions or karma – it is not given to us as a punishment. We suffer because we have accumulated many non-virtuous actions in our previous lives. The source of these non-virtuous actions are our own delusions such as anger, attachment, and self-grasping ignorance.
Once we have purified our mind of self-grasping and all other delusions, all our actions will naturally be pure. As a result of our pure actions or pure karma, everything we experience will be pure. We shall abide in a pure world, with a pure body, enjoying pure enjoyments and surrounded by pure beings. There will no longer be the slightest trace of suffering, impurity, or problems. This is how to find true happiness from within our mind.
To find out more about karma, see the book Joyful Path of Good Fortune.
We must learn to stop our attachment through the practice of renunciation or it will be a serious obstacle to our pure spiritual practice. Just as a bird cannot fly if it has stones tied to its legs, so we cannot make progress on the spiritual path if we are tightly tied down by the chains of attachment.
The time to practice renunciation is now, before our death. We need to reduce our attachment to worldly pleasures by realizing that they are deceptive and cannot give real satisfaction. In reality, they cause us only suffering.
This human life with all its suffering and problems is a great opportunity for us to improve both our renunciation and our compassion. We should not waste this precious opportunity.
The realization of renunciation is the gateway through which we enter the spiritual path to liberation, or nirvana. Without renunciation, it is impossible even to enter the path to the supreme happiness of nirvana, let alone progress along it.
To develop and increase our renunciation, we can repeatedly contemplate the following:
Because my consciousness is beginningless, I have taken countless rebirths in samsara. I have already had countless bodies; if they were all gathered together, they would fill the entire world, and all the blood and other bodily fluids that have flowed through them would form an ocean. So great has been my suffering in all these previous lives that I have shed enough tears of sorrow to form another ocean.
In every single life, I have experienced the sufferings of sickness, aging, death, being separated from those I love, and being unable to fulfill my wishes. If I do not attain permanent liberation from suffering now, I shall have to experience these sufferings again and again in countless future lives.
Contemplating this, from the depths of our heart we make a strong determination to abandon attachment to worldly pleasures and attain permanent liberation from contaminated rebirth. By putting this determination into practice, we can control our attachment and thereby solve many of our daily problems.
It is the root of Buddha because all Buddhas are born from compassion. It is the root of Dharma because Buddhas give Dharma teachings motivated solely by compassion for others. It is the root of Sangha because it is by listening to and practicing Dharma teachings given out of compassion that we become Sangha, or Superior beings.
What exactly is compassion? Compassion is a mind that is motivated by cherishing other living beings and wishes to release them from their suffering.
Sometimes out of selfish intention we can wish for another person to be free from their suffering; this is quite common in relationships that are based principally on attachment. If our friend is ill or depressed, for example, we may wish him to recover quickly so that we can enjoy his company again; but this wish is basically self-centered and is not true compassion. True compassion is necessarily based on cherishing others.
Although we already have some degree of compassion, at present it is very biased and limited. When our family and friends are suffering, we easily develop compassion for them, but we find it far more difficult to feel sympathy for people we find unpleasant or for strangers. </p> <p>Furthermore, we feel compassion for those who are experiencing manifest pain, but not for those who are enjoying good conditions, and especially not for those who are engaging in harmful actions.
If we genuinely want to realize our potential by attaining full enlightenment we need to increase the scope of our compassion until it embraces all living beings without exception, just as a loving mother feels compassion for all her children irrespective of whether they are behaving well or badly.
This universal compassion is the heart of Mahayana Buddhism. Unlike our present, limited compassion, which already arises naturally from time to time, universal compassion must first be cultivated through training over a long period of time. Extracted from by Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
It is defined as a mind, motivated by compassion for all living beings, that spontaneously seeks enlightenment.
Bodhichitta is born from great compassion, which itself depends upon cherishing love.
Cherishing love can be likened to a field, compassion to the seeds, taking and giving to the supreme methods for making the seeds grow, and bodhichitta to the harvest.
The cherishing love that is developed through the practice of exchanging self with others is more profound than that developed through other methods, and so the resultant compassion and bodhichitta are also more profound.
Without great compassion, the spontaneous wish to protect all living beings from suffering, bodhichitta cannot arise in our mind; but if we have great compassion, especially the great compassion generated through exchanging self with others, bodhichitta will arise naturally. The strength of our bodhichitta depends entirely upon the strength of our great compassion.
Of all Dharma realizations, bodhichitta is supreme. This profoundly compassionate mind is the very essence of the Bodhisattva’s training. Developing the good heart of bodhichitta enables us to perfect all our virtues, solve all our problems, fulfill all our wishes, and develop the power to help others in the most appropriate and beneficial ways.
Bodhichitta is the best friend we can have and the highest quality we can develop. We generally consider someone who is kind to his or her friends, takes care of his parents, and gives freely to worthwhile causes to be a good person; but how much more praiseworthy is a person who has dedicated his or her whole life to relieving the suffering of each and every sentient being?
We should know that all our problems arise because we do not realize ultimate truth. The reason we remain in samsara’s prison is that due to our delusions we continue to engage in contaminated actions. All our delusions stem from self-grasping ignorance.
Self-grasping ignorance is the source of all our negativity and problems, and the only way to eradicate it is to realize emptiness. Emptiness is not easy to understand, but it is extremely important that we make the effort. Ultimately our efforts will be rewarded by the permanent cessation of all suffering and the everlasting bliss of full enlightenment.
The purpose of understanding and meditating on emptiness is to release our mind from wrong conceptions and mistaken appearances so that we shall become a completely pure, or enlightened, being.
In this context, ‘wrong conception’ refers to the mind of self-grasping ignorance – a conceptual mind that grasps objects as truly existent; and ‘mistaken appearance’ refers to the appearance of truly existent objects. The former are the obstructions to liberation and the latter the obstructions to omniscience. Only a Buddha has abandoned both obstructions.
There are two types of self-grasping: self-grasping of persons and self-grasping of phenomena. The first grasps our own or others’ self, or I, as truly existent, and the second grasps any phenomenon other than our own or others’ self as truly existent. Minds that grasp our body, our mind, our possessions, and our world as truly existent are all examples of self-grasping of phenomena.
The main point of meditating on emptiness is to reduce and finally to eliminate both types of self-grasping. Self-grasping is the source of all our problems; the extent to which we suffer is directly proportional to the intensity of our self-grasping.
For example, when our self-grasping is very strong, we feel a sharp mental pain when others simply tease us in a friendly way, whereas at times when our self-grasping is weak we just laugh with them. Once we completely destroy our self-grasping, all our problems will naturally disappear. Even temporarily, meditating on emptiness is very helpful for overcoming anxiety and worry.