“A disciplined mind brings happiness.” ~ Shakyamuni Buddha
With the coming of every new year, people find it time to set new resolutions, and paths, for them to take. Sadly, many of these quickly end due to lack of commitment (such as going to the gym, or a diet).
But there is one thing that should be a serious commitment for any Buddhist: freeing yourself from a self-imposed jail of suffering and dissatisfaction brought upon by the three poisons of delusions, desires, and hatred!
Yet, many of us do not stay committed because it just takes “too much time” to mediate, read scripture, practice, etc. If you were wrongly imprisoned, wouldn’t you want to do everything to get out of jail?!
Forget a new year resolution you are going to give up on anyways, and pick up the resolution of taking the path towards enlightenment this year!
Start With Your Bullish Mind
The Buddha saw things as they truly are, but he did not start from there. Despite trying the many teachings and practices of his time, it was not until he sat under a tree (later known as the “Bodhi tree”) and resolved to meditate there until he discovered the ultimate truth (to the liberation from “Dukkha“, commonly translated as suffering) did he succeed.
He did this largely by focusing and cultivating his mind until he discovered the truth. But, as the story of the Buddha goes, he had plenty of opportunities (and temptations) to just give up (just like how we might give up on a diet when a plate of cookies are on the table!).
Just like the Buddha, we also can start with our own mind! Our minds can be similar to a wild bull you have to tame, because our mind is uncontrolled and always leading you towards suffering (ever heard the saying ‘like a bull in a china shop’?).
By working on taming and cultivating our mind, we can more easily understand the truth about Dukkha in our lives (suffering, dissatisfaction, etc.) and how to overcome it. When we can tame this bull, we can finally achieve awakening (enlightenment) and realize the natural and peaceful state of Nirvana (essentially, freedom from your self-imposed jail!).
Before I go further, it’s important to note that the Buddha never quit practicing after he achieved enlightenment. We’d like to think “well, he achieved success and is now an ‘enlightened’ being who doesn’t need to do anything”. In-fact, his awakening revealed the true nature of things (similar to taking off a blindfold) which made it easier for him in one sense, but it didn’t stop him from being mindful throughout the rest of his life!
The Noble Eightfold Path (which we will talk about next) essentially makes your “wheel” perfectly round…smooth…”no Dukkha”. That means he was continually practicing all eight aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path every moment of his life. That’s commitment!
Right Thinking, Right Away
So how do we tame this bullish mind? The Buddha’s Eightfold Path tells us that “Right Thought” (also known as ‘Right Thinking’ or ‘Mindfulness’) is part of what we need to cultivate.
But what “Right Thought”? By having right thoughts, we are not allowing perceptions and events to cloud or color our view of how things truly are. We don’t allow that bull to thrash around in our mind and cause chaos. That bull makes us get angry, hate, and grasp/get attached to things…essentially, all the things that make up the three poisons (which cause Dukkha). The three poisons in-turn make us create unwholesome actions (Karma). This just makes everything out of balance (Dukkha) and makes life unsatisfactory. The more we don’t practice right thought, the more our actions are out of balance.
Instead we want to achieve a steady, focused, and calm mind. In-turn, this helps us with the rest of the Noble Eightfold Path!
Have you ever thought that going to work one day would be horrible, and it turned out that way? Or have you ever thought that cleaning the dishes is the most boring thing in the world, and it was? Those are examples of wrong thinking where we allowed our perceptions and wild thoughts to create the wrong attitude within ourselves which lead to Dukkha. And you probably have plenty of experiences where your thinking created wrong actions.
Right Thinking sounds easy in practice, but our mind has been cultivated for so long now to keep us “locked up” in our wrong perceptions and views, we cannot easily think “right”. Even worse, you likely don’t believe this is the case! Your mind is very sneaky that way.
I liked Bodhipaksa’s explanation (in regards to verse 2 of the Dhammapada):
The Buddha is talking about how our experience becomes habitual. If we continually respond to life with thoughts and emotions that are aversive or grasping, we’ll experience greater suffering. If we respond with mindfulness, patience, and compassion, we’ll experience greater joy.
The Eightfold Path, while sounding simple, takes dedication, study, and practice, to follow. Just like an innocent person who is incarcerated, you must learn the law, work with lawyers, and be committed to freedom, in order to be free. Otherwise, it is very easy to resign yourself to being “locked up” forever. The Eightfold Path is actually a very skillful way to achieve enlightenment, because it provides everything you need to do in order to achieve that goal. It is like a map showing you all the stops you need to take from Los Angeles to New York City. Just make sure you don’t take any wrong turns!
Thinking Your Way To A Buddha Mind
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves. ~ Buddha (Dhammapada, Verse 2, Eknath Easwaran’s translation)
So how can we achieve a Buddha Mind and achieve Nirvana? Here are some ideas:
- Practice the Eightfold Path. Each step in the Eightfold Path is interconnected and will help you by reinforcing each step.
- If you feel your mind going “wild”, don’t worry. Just recognize and accept it, then let the thought float away. The point is not to be “perfect”, but realize what is happening “in the present moment”. Even the Buddha constantly practiced every moment of his life. In-fact, a Buddha is no different than you or me, and must practice as well. “Paying attention” is a classic Zen/Ch’an Buddhism response to what Buddhism is all about, and they are right. It sounds simple, but it’s not (thanks to that crazy Bull in our mind).
- Question yourself on any anxiety and thoughts that arise. Make sure it truly is something you need to concern yourself about. We focus much about our past, and worry about the future, that we constantly forget about the present moment. When we truly live “in the moment”, there is no such thing as a “past” or a “future”. Instead, you experience and interact with life as you truly should.
- Do something fully by giving it your undivided attention. Whether its washing dishes, doing taxes, or even eating, when you fully focus on something you are present in the moment. Often we think of meditation as sitting in a weird cross legged position with smelly incense going, but that isn’t so. Buddhism is practiced in the real world, and being able to “be in the zone” is how we should be living. This does’t mean you are oblivious to everything around you, but instead that Bull is not controlling you, but instead you are in your natural state.
- Practice meditation. By using meditation, we are able to calm, build, and strengthen our mind so it can focus and see clearly. This can take months, years, decades, or a lifetime (or Kalpas), however the benefits are there even if you don’t realize it right away. Meditation, while not specifically a teaching of the Buddha, is used by Buddhists to help control the mind. Vispanna (insight) and Samatha (calming) meditation are the two major types. You can also practice “walking” meditation, and even meditation doing common daily activities. The point is, meditation is not just something you do while sitting! If you don’t have a meditation center or teacher nearby, check out my article here, and also Wildmind (they even have online courses) or the video series by Mindah-Lee Kumar.
- Practice Loving-Kindness. Nothing speaks of the Buddha more than his compassion and love. Plant some seeds of kindness in your mind and grow something beautiful. By practicing this wonderful concept, you can help transform that Bull in your mind to a fluffy bunny. OK, well maybe not, but the point is you are able to stop the three poisons of delusions, desires, and hatred, through incorporating this practice.
Achieving a Buddha-mind is not only possible, it is actually within all of us (something we call “Buddhanature” in Mahayana Buddhism) and achievable with steady and continuous effort.
Just like the lotus flower, which sits just below the waterline often in muddy water and unseen, it is ready to spring up and bloom at any time. You also can have your mind bloom (enlightenment) into something beautiful which we call the state of Nirvana!
I will leave you with this final quote by Bodhipaksa which sums it all up perfectly. You need to be actively engaged and committed to your own enlightenment!
For the Buddha it was what we do in our thoughts, speech, and action that is the determinant of our happiness, not our thoughts alone.