Why does meditation help us to look after the mind? First, meditation is the only way the mind can rest. All day long we think, emote, and react. All night long we dream. This most beautiful and valuable of all tools, our own mind, never gets a moment’s rest. The only way it can get a rest is when we sit down and concentrate on a meditation subject.
Second, meditation is the main way of purification. One moment of concentration is one moment of purification. Stress will always be there, particularly in a big city, but the purified mind no longer needs to react to it. In a big city, everyone is rushing from one place to the next . . . even watching it is stressful. Stress will always be there, but we don’t have to suffer from it.
Day in and day out we wash and clean our body, and yet that is all we clean. We also need to purify the mind and give it a rest. When we see our thoughts and emotions arise in meditation, eventually we can just watch them arise and cease, and don’t have to react to them.
Learning to Substitute Positive Reactions for Our Negative Reactions
In everyday life, when our mind says, “This is terrible, this is stressful. I have got to do something about it. I am going to change my job,” or “I am going to sell the car,” or “I have got to move to the country,” we know that we are just reacting. We realize that stress is in the reactions of our own mind.
When we sit and meditate, we choose a time when everything is quiet and we expect not to be disturbed. We sit quietly, but we can’t concentrate. Anyone who has tried it knows. Why can’t we keep our mind on the breath? What is the mind doing? As we watch it, we will see that the mind has a tendency to think, to react, to emote, and to fantasize. It does everything under the sun except concentrate.
We become very aware of that in meditation and we have to change it, otherwise we can’t meditate. So we substitute all that is going on in the mind with attention on the breath, again and again. We learn to substitute positive reactions for our negative reactions.
What, or Who, Makes Our Life Miserable?
No matter what we see as our greatest difficulty, we realize that it is our dislike of it that makes us suffer. We make our lives miserable by being miserable, so why not do exactly the opposite, and make our lives happy, joyful, and harmonious, by being happy, joyful, and harmonious?
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We create our own lives and yet we think that something else is doing it. All we have to do is change our mental reactions towards the opposite direction. And the way to do that is to meditate, otherwise we won’t have the strength of mind to do it.
A mind that can meditate is a mind that is one-pointed. And a mind that is one-pointed, the Buddha said, is like an ax that has been sharpened. It has a sharp edge that can cut through everything.
If You Want to Remove Stress and Strain...
If we want to remove stress and strain, and have a different quality of life, we have every opportunity. We need to strengthen our mind to the point where it will not suffer from the things which exist in the world.
What do we want? We want things to be the way we think they ought to be, but there are five billion others who think exactly the same way, so that doesn’t work, does it?
Eventually we start to practice a spiritual path and to live a spiritual life. A spiritual path and a spiritual life are directly opposed to a worldly life and a materialistic life, but only inwardly. We can continue to wear the same clothes, live in the same place, have the same job, and the same family around us.
The Worldly Path & the Spiritual Path: Stress and No Stress
The difference does not lie in the outer trappings. The difference lies in one essential fact. On the worldly path we want to get whatever it is we are looking for, whether it is peace, harmony, love, support, appreciation, money, success, or whatever. And as long as we want something — anything — we will have stress.
The difference in being on the spiritual path is that we give up the wanting. If we can give up the wanting, there can be no stress. If we can see that difference, if we can see that without the “me wanting” there can be no stress, then we can continue on the path.
Naturally, we cannot give up all our wanting all at once; there will be stages. But we can give up trying to change the outer conditions and instead begin changing the inner ones. This is not so difficult, but we do need meditation.
What Is It That I Do Not Like About My Life?
One thing we can do is think for a moment, “What is it that I do not like about my life?” Whatever comes to mind, we drop it. For one moment, we drop the dislike of the other person or the situation that has come to mind. We can pick it up again the next moment and have the whole dislike back if we want to, but just drop it for one moment and see the relief.
If we can do that over and over again, we realize that our lives are the effects of causes that we ourselves have set into motion, an example of karma and its results. We realize that each situation presented to us is a learning situation on a spiritual path.
Sometimes the situations are very unpleasant, but the more unpleasant they are, the more we can learn from them. We don’t have to like things the way they are, but we can like the way they teach us something. We can have gratitude for every teaching, and then we won’t feel stressed. We feel buoyant and everything becomes so much easier. Meditation is a means to that end.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Snow Lion Publications. http://www.snowlionpub.com
©1995, 2010 Karma Lekshe Tsomo.
Buddhism Through American Women's Eyes
(a collection of essays by various authors)
edited by Karma Lekshe Tsomo.
Thirteen women contribute a wealth of thought-provoking material on topics such as bringing Dharma into relationships, dealing with stress, Buddhism and the Twelve Steps, mothering and meditation, the monastic experience, and forging a kind heart in an age of alienation.
About the Author of this excerpt (Chapter 7)
Bhikshuni Ayya Khema (1923-1997) was a meditation teacher in the Bhuddist Theravada tradition and the author of numerous books on Buddhism, including Being Nobody, Going Nowhere and When the Iron Eagle Flies: Buddhism for the West. She was instrumental in founding Wat Buddhadharma in Australia, Parappuduwa Nuns' Island in Sri Lanka, and Buddha-Haus in Germany. In 1987, she co-ordinated the first international conference of Buddhist nuns in the history of Buddhism, which resulted in the setting-up of Sakyadhita, a world-wide Buddhist women's organization. In May 1987, as an invited lecturer, she was the first ever Buddhist nun to address the United Nations in New York on the topic of Buddhism and World Peace.
About the Book's Editor
Karma Lekshe Tsomo is an associate professor of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Diego, where she teaches classes in Buddhism, World Religions, Comparative Ethics, and Religious Diversity in India. She studied Buddhism in Dharamsala for 15 years and completed a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Hawai'i with research on death and identity in China and Tibet. She specializes in Buddhist philosophical systems, comparative topics in religion, Buddhism and gender, and Buddhism and bioethics. An American Buddhist nun practicing in the Tibetan tradition, Dr. Tsomo was a founder of Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women (www.sakyadhita.org). She is the director of Jamyang Foundation (www.jamyang.org), an initiative to provide educational opportunities for women in developing countries, with twelve projects in the Indian Himalayas and three in Bangladesh.