The word ‘Buddhism’ conjours up many images and feelings in our mind. In this modern world we often associate it with orange robed monks sat in Tibetan caves, heads shaved, feet bare, sat in deep meditation. We can picture giant Buddhist temples in the far flung lands of Thailand and China. Its feels like a floaty word, perhaps a bit hippie and daydreamish. It is a word that we relate with wisdom and peace, so much so that we can head into any home mega store and pick up a small Buddhist statue for our mantelpiece or garden, without even mildly associating ourselves with the teachings of Buddha.
Buddhism feels like something we would like to invite into our homes, into our lives, but it seems too complicated and out of our reach to ever fully invest in and understand. Or so we may think. But in fact, Modern Buddhism is not only a growing faith within the western world, but it is also becoming more and more accessible, mainly thanks to a Tibetan monk named Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who has, with supreme kindness, translated Buddhas teachings and made them relative to our modern daily lives without polluting them or altering them from their original lineage that dates right back to Buddha himself. This tradition of Buddhism that I follow is Kadampa Buddhism, with centres rising around the UK, meditation classes, open talks, book study classes, and the opportunity for westerners to meet pure Buddha dharma. There’s no mountainside caves to be retreated to, no foreign scrolls to decipher, and certainly no need to shave your head.
Buddha himself gave around 80,000 teachings and so this brief blog post aims to be just a quick toe dip into the vast and deep ocean of Buddhism, a little taste of the nectar. The general basis of Buddhism is that our experience of the world depends upon our mind. To give a simple example, let’s say that you and a friend go to the cinema to watch a film, and one of you enjoys the film and other person dislikes it. What is the difference here? The film is the same, the cinema setting is the same, but the two minds that viewed the film have a different experience. The same can be said for our day to day lives. Two people living the exact same lives, same jobs, same relationship status, same living arrangements, could record very different experiences based on their individual mind.
Imagine our mind is like a cup of pure water. That is our pure Buddha mind. It is peaceful and calm. It is full only of ‘good’ virtuous minds such as patience and compassion. Now we add in the minds that pollute the water, ‘negative’ non-virtuous minds such as anger, jealousy, greed, self importance and aversion. This is the current state of our mind. As long as our mind is contaminated by these non virtuous minds, our life will never be peaceful and happy. Buddhism incorporates ancient teachings and meditations to slowly reduce and eventually eliminate these minds, so we can have a mind like a fresh and crispy clean glass of water, rather than a cloudy and polluted bog.
So why is it so important for us to eliminate these minds? It seems a little selfish doesn’t it, to just spend time working on our own minds? How is sitting meditating going to create positive change in he world?
Well first, lets have a think about the bigger picture, our world. It is full of problems, we can all agree on that. There certainly is no such thing currently as world peace. When we examine the reasons for war, poverty and crime, we can easily realise that non-virtuous minds have all played a huge part in the destruction and suffering. Greed for oil, land, money, and material possessions, anger for those who do not conform to a religion and aversion for opposing faiths, a self important need for power, a dismissive mind of those who are in need of compassion. World leaders, governments, citizens, me and you, anyone who is in possession of a non virtuous mind is capable of causing harm and suffering, whether it is a hurtful comment made to a co-worker out of jealousy, or a man with funny hair ruling a whole country.
Can we imagine a world where Hitler had a pure and peaceful mind free from anger, jealousy, greed and a thirst for power? Now imagine a world where no one possess these minds. The world will never know peace until every human has a pure Buddha mind free from these non virtuous minds. It seems like a big task, how can we encourage everyone – of any religion, race and background – to work on creating a peaceful mind? Because of course, whilst Buddhism is a religion in itself with belief systems, prayers and rituals, we don’t all need to convert to Buddhism to work on our mind, it can be a practice that works alongside other beliefs. The answer is to simply learn and understand the teachings, put them into practice in our daily life, see the positive changes it brings, set an example, be an ambassador. Buddha himself encouraged people to not just believe what he taught, but to try it and see for themselves.
If we have a pure and peaceful mind, we will have pure and peaceful intentions, and with pure and peaceful intentions we will inevitably have pure and peaceful speech and actions. In this way we are promoting a pure and peaceful world. We cannot expect world peace if we cannot live peacefully with our neighbours, family and work collegues, so we have to make a start somewhere.
So why meditate? This is another often misunderstood practice. It is quite often believed that meditation involves completely emptying the mind or imagining yourself relaxing on a beach. Whist the latter is a fantastic way to relax and help with falling asleep, the former is pretty much impossible, and neither are related to traditional meditation. The Buddhist practice of training the mind incorporates our own imagination to improve our viruous minds. Now, I know its easy to scoff at that, imagination is for children, right? But as adults we constantly use our imagination. The computer you are reading this on, the clothes you are wearing, the house you are sat in, they all began in one persons imagination. With effort, their imagination became reality.
How many times have we imagined a work meeting or a doctors appointment going terribly wrong before they even began? Or imagined our future family with the first positive pregnancy test? Our imagination outgrows our physical lives. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a jungle, on a mountain, on the moon! It’s possible because our imagination is so powerful it surpasses time and place. Briefly and simply put, Buddhist practice harnesses that power, by taking the time to soley focus our imagination on compassion, patience, the suffering of others etc, with the aim to enhance our virtuous minds. It’s not easy, our mind is pulled continuously out of our control – what shall I make for dinner, did I leave the oven on, I must remember to send that email tomorrow – and that is why it takes continued practice. But we mustn’t be discouraged. Remember the Tibetan monk Geshe Kelsang Gyatso? Well his advice is simple ‘Just try!’, and we can all do that.
One thing I often consider – and this is kind of off topic a little – is if people will read about Buddhism and wonder if it means you have to become boring? I mean, practising being pure and peaceful all the time sounds a little dull doesn’t it? But I hear the teachings, I study the books, I attend classes, I make huge efforts to put them into practice in my daily life, and guess what? I’m not boring! I enjoy a drink with friends, I colour my hair, I travel the world, I swear, I’m a normal human being doing normal human being things. The teachings are incredibly life transforming, very scientific and really quite interesting to learn, training my mind and becoming a Buddhist has improved my quality of life immeasurably, and it has certainly not dulled it. My life has simply become less complicated and more meaningful. ‘Dharma’ is a word used to describe Buddha’s teachings, and the light hearted saying goes ‘More dharma, less drama!’. We refer to the teachings as having an inner protection, a dharma shield. I’m more able to process my own painful moments and suffering because my mind of compassion has grown and my non virtuous minds are gradually (not always, we are all just learners) becoming less like the untamed wild elephants that they can be. My suggestion would be to just be aware of your mind over the next few hours / days / weeks and see just how little control we actually have. No judgement, simply noticing.
I will continue blogging about Buddhism – it is a huge subject that I love to write about. In the meantime if anyone has any desire to look further into Buddhism then I can happily guide you to http://www.tharpa.com where there is a wealth of books and meditations for your enjoyment.
Love from Pea x