Turning the Wheel of the Dharma

The Need for Mind Training

A teaching given by the Venerable Thupten Rinpoche at the Dhargyey Buddhist Centre, 16 February 1997. © Copyright Dhargyey Buddhist Centre, 1997.

First of all I'd like to welcome everyone back to the Centre. Today is the first meditation class of the many meditation classes we'll have. I'd like to extend my warmest greetings to everybody.

Since there is a tradition of saying something before the actual meditation teachings begin, I thought I would give a preliminary talk before we actually begin meditation.

All living beings from the biggest to the smallest -- in this country from the Prime Minister to the ordinary citizens and right down to the smallest insects -- have a common desire. That desire is the desire for happiness.

In their pursuit of happiness different people follow different faiths. In spite of the differences between faiths the aim of each is to show its followers the way to happiness. That is the same in all.

"Most people wonder what they can do to experience lasting success and happiness. They want to know how to stop the success and happiness they experience, from turning into dissatisfaction and suffering . . ."

Similarly, the rules and laws of a land are formulated in order to secure the welfare of its citizens. However it re-mains to be seen whether everything that is aimed at providing happiness for people and creatures is successful. It remains to be seen whether they achieve their goal.

Likewise, at an individual level, different people do different things, employ different means, to achieve personal happiness and satisfaction. Some succeed, others fail. And even those who succeed only succeed temporarily through employing such means. This is because the means people think will bring happiness and success only bring about temporary happiness. In fact eventually such means will actually cause problems, hardships and other undesirable results.

So most people wonder what they can do in order to experience lasting success and happiness and joy -- what they can do to prevent the success and happiness they experience in the beginning from turning into dissatisfaction and suffering.

I myself think about this from the Buddhist perspective and it is my responsibility to help you by showing the Buddhist way. It is your concern to think about this and implement it. If things that I say prove beneficial when you implement them, then these are the things you need to keep in mind and live your life by.

What's clear is that we all seek happiness. But it must be understood that if we seek happiness through external means we will fail to achieve the lasting happiness which is our goal. As mentioned before, different people do different things. Some work hard to become rich, thinking that wealth is something that brings happiness. Some people think happiness is eating good food and drinking a variety of drinks. However it is very hard to find people who have achieved lasting joy and happiness -- satis-faction that will not event-ually diminish -- through wealth, food and drink.

Why does our initial sense of happiness and satisfaction diminish? Why do we eventually get an undesirable result from means that earlier seemed to bring us happiness?

" ... if we want lasting happiness we have to free our minds from the darkness of negative emotions."

This is because we make a critical mistake in identifying the cause of happiness. We fail to think about the important concerns, and keep concentrating on small matters.

By 'important concerns' I do not necessarily mean religious faith. Devout religious people and atheists alike have a desire for happiness and freedom from suffering. This wish and its fulfilment is not dependent on whether people believe in a particular religion.

Thus, because all seek happiness whether they are believers or not, one has to teach a way that is acceptable to all.

To do this, I would like to quote a Buddhist maxim: "Freedom is happiness, domination is suffering". If people think about this it will make sense to believers and non-believers alike. Every-one will accept that when you are free you have happiness, and when you are not free you suffer.

The statement 'freedom is happiness' does not have only political implications. Take New Zealand for instance, one of the freest countries on earth. Although people live in total freedom, are people completely happy?

When it says 'freedom -- meaning self-power -- is happiness', and 'domination -- meaning control-by-others -- is suffering', what is that self? What is that other? Being under other-power means that things are determined for you by others. What are these others? They are negative emotions. What is self? In this context self refers to one's mind.

Our mind, which has always been seeking happiness, has not had self-determination. It has not been able to have self-determination because it has been controlled most of the time by negative emotions and negative thoughts. It has been under the influence of the 'other', meaning negative thoughts. Therefore those negative thoughts have caused us suffering and misery.

Thus if we want lasting happiness, we need to free our mind from the dark force of negative emotions. As long as our mind remains under the control of 'other', these dark negative thoughts, we could be living in the freest land in the world, our body could be extremely strong and healthy, but we would not be happy.

So it becomes very important that we liberate the mind, that we break the bonds of negative emotions and set free the mind that seeks happiness.

In setting the mind free from the bondage of negative emotions, a change of external appearance will not help. Shaving your head and putting on maroon and saffron robes alone will not do that.

" ... if we seek happiness through material means we will fail to achieve the lasting happiness which is our goal."

What can one do that is effective in freeing the mind from the domination of negative emotion? I see that self-analysis of the mind -- checking one's mind all the time -- is very important.

Of the many negative emotions that delude the mind into seeing things wrongly there are three main ones: desire, hatred and ignorance. I'll explain how these work via analogies:

It is obvious that people can come under the influence of other people. How does this happen? One way is to use force to bring someone into submission and dominate them. Another way, for a person who has a very articulate tongue, may be to say nice things to deceive someone into believing what is said, accepting it and then being psychologically dominated. In each case a person is influenced and under the other person's domination. There are also people who are influenced neither by an articulate tongue nor dominated by force but who still come under others' influence through lacking awareness of their surroundings and circumstances.

Now to bring these analogies back to the topic: Attachment and desire are like the person with the soft appearance and articulate soft tongue who somehow manages to control you and bring you under his influence. When people do not realize that the way of desire is quite deceptive -- soft, articulate and very attractive -- but that one is influenced badly by desire, they get caught in all sorts of complications.

What does hatred do? Hatred uses force just as a ruthless person who exercises physical power over you and brings you under domination.

What does ignorance do? Ignorance ensures that you are quite unaware of how desire and hatred, etc, are delusions. When one is not aware of the actual reality of objects of desire and the desire itself, of objects of hatred and the hatred itself, one allows oneself to be influenced by these as if of one's own accord.

How can we set the mind free from the bondage of negative emotions like deceptive, soft desire, wrathful anger and foolish ignorance?

What we must do is combat these negative emotions and apply antidotes when they arise.

How can we know that we have come under the influence of desire or anger etc, since we can't see these negative emotions? It is true that we can't see the emotions themselves, but we can see from our behaviour whether we have come under the influence of one of them. Thus we need to observe our own behaviour.

For instance if one actually commits stealing, the act of stealing is a physical indication that one is dominated by desire. When one speaks harshly to other people, that is an indication that one is under the influence of hatred and anger.

Thus our physical actions and verbal actions are the indications which guide us as to where our mind is going: in order to set the mind free from negative emotions we have to start by keeping watch over our physical and verbal behaviour.

But mere perfect knowledge of this is not enough to control desire, hatred and ignorance etc. What is necessary for effective control of these negative emotions is to implement the knowledge and try to combat these delusions through practice.

At first, when you try to implement your knowledge of these matters, you will not notice that you have done something negat-ive until after you've done it. But as you keep on trying there will come a stage where you will notice when you are on the verge of committing a negative physical or verbal action.

" Geshe Bengungyal would constantly keep watch on his mind and his behaviour, and when he found that he was unwittingly doing something bad he would berate himself, accusing himself of being negative."

Then, as you keep on practising in this way, there will come a time when you are able to control the mind long before you commit the action. In fact you will have diminished the force of negative emotions -- attachment and desire etc.

Finally, as you continue to diminish the force of negative emotions in this way, there will come a time when you will be able to eradicate them from the mind altogether.

Because we have been controlled by negative emotions like desire, hatred and ignorance throughout our beginningless past existences in many life-forms; because we have invariably been controlled by these, we still have them. The best thing we can do is to make a start in changing that pattern.

We are all humans, not enlightened beings. We all have our human weaknesses within, and these are expressed in physical and verbal actions. There is nothing surprising or sad about this. The important thing is that we don't give free reign to these negative emotions, allowing them to dictate our physical and verbal actions. If we let them, they will invariably influence our body and mind to do things that are harmful. What we need to do is to realize that these negative emotions are harmful, and that they cause harm.

Of the many lamas who have combatted strong delusions there is a wonderful account of one Kadampa lama whose story I would like briefly to tell you. His name was Geshe Bengungyal. Before he embraced Buddhism he was a notorious person, a thief by the night and a robber by day. By a stroke of good fortune, something happened to him which enabled him to realize the harmful life he was living. Then he met some Kadampa lamas from whom he received many teachings. The teachings touched the core of his being, striking a chord with his spiritual potential, and he practised the teachings well and became a great master himself.

He would constantly keep watch on his mind and his behaviour, and when he found that he was un-wittingly doing something bad, he would berate him-self, accusing himself of being negative.

One day he went to visit a family. All the people in the family went out and he was left alone in the house. Looking around, he saw a bag in which the family kept dried tea, hanging on the wall. He had no tea at his place and, having stolen in the past, he couldn't help himself -- his arm reached out to grab the bag of tea. He got up and put his hand in the bag. The moment he did this he realized he was doing the wrong thing.

He grabbed his right hand, the stealing hand, with his left hand and shouted out, "Come, come, everybody! There's a thief in the house!"

Others came and said, "Where is the thief? Where is the thief?" because they saw nobody except Geshe Bengungyal. So he pointed to his right hand and said, "There's the thief!"

Although the people didn't see a thief in the house, it was actually an act of theft that Geshe Bengungyal had been about to do. However before he actually stole any tea he was able to realize, there and then, that it was a harmful, wrong action and he was able to prevent himself from stealing.

If we can emulate the Kadampa masters like Geshe Bengungyal and keep constant awareness of our thoughts, speech and physical actions, we will definitely succeed in reducing, diminishing and finally totally uprooting our negative thoughts and our harmful speech and actions.

Meditation: In this short meditation time would you please consider how we can best set free the mind from the negative emotions of desire, hatred and ignorance. Can the mind best be set free by following the things I have described to you, or can you yourself come up with some ideas that will help you in controlling negative emotions and freeing the mind from negative emotions and thoughts?

Meditation does not only mean to visualize, to concentrate on a figure before one. Meditation also means reasoning, going through various lines of thought in order to help one control negative emotions and generate and strengthen positive ones. The latter kind of meditation is more beneficial.

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