you are, and you suddenly realize that you are spending
your whole life just barely getting by. You keep up
a good front. You manage to make ends meet somehow and
look OK from the outside. But those periods of desperation,
those times when you feel everything caving in on you,
you keep those to yourself. You are a mess. And you
know it. But you hide it beautifully. Meanwhile, way
down under all that you just know there has got be some
other way to live, some better way to look at the world,
some way to touch life more fully. You click into it
by chance now and then. You get a good job. You fall
in love. You win the game. and for a while, things are
different. Life takes on a richness and clarity that
makes all the bad times and humdrum fade away. The whole
texture of your experience changes and you say to yourself,
"OK, now I've made it; now I will be happy". But then
that fades, too, like smoke in the wind. You are left
with just a memory. That and a vague awareness that
something is wrong.
there is really another whole realm of depth and sensitivity
available in life, somehow, you are just not seeing
it. You wind up feeling cut off. You feel insulated
from the sweetness of experience by some sort of sensory
cotton. You are not really touching life. You are not
making it again. And then even that vague awareness
fades away, and you are back to the same old reality.
The world looks like the usual foul place, which is
boring at best. It is an emotional roller coaster, and
you spend a lot of your time down at the bottom of the
ramp, yearning for the heights.
what is wrong with you? Are you a freak? No. You are
just human. And you suffer from the same malady that
infects every human being. It is a monster in side all
of us, and it has many arms: Chronic tension, lack of
genuine compassion for others, including the people
closest to you, feelings being blocked up, and emotional
deadness. Many, many arms. None of us is entirely free
from it. We may deny it. We try to suppress it. We build
a whole culture around hiding from it, pretending it
is not there, and distracting ourselves from it with
goals and projects and status. But it never goes away.
It is a constant undercurrent in every thought and every
perception; a little wordless voice at the back of the
head saying, "Not good enough yet. Got to have more.
Got to make it better. Got to be better." It is a monster,
a monster that manifests everywhere in subtle forms.
to a party. Listen to the laughter, that brittle-tongued
voice that says fun on the surface and fear underneath.
Feel the tension, feel the pressure. Nobody really relaxes.
They are faking it. Go to a ball game. Watch the fan
in the stand. Watch the irrational fit of anger. Watch
the uncontrolled frustration bubbling forth from people
that masquerades under the guise of enthusiasm, or team
spirit. Booing, cat-calls and unbridled egotism in the
name of team loyalty. Drunkenness, fights in the stands.
These are the people trying desperately to release tension
from within. These are not people who are at peace with
themselves. Watch the news on TV. Listen to the lyrics
in popular songs. You find the same theme repeated over
and over in variations. Jealousy, suffering, discontent
seems to be a perpetual struggle, some enormous effort
against staggering odds. And what is our solution to
all this dissatisfaction? We get stuck in the ' If only'
syndrome. If only I had more money, then I would be
happy. If only I can find somebody who really loves
me, if only I can lose 20 pounds, if only I had a color
TV, Jacuzzi, and curly hair, and on and on forever.
So where does all this junk come from and more important,
what can we do about it? It comes from the conditions
of our own minds. It is deep, subtle and pervasive set
of mental habits, a Gordian knot which we have built
up bit by bit and we can unravel just the same way,
one piece at a time. We can tune up our awareness, dredge
up each separate piece and bring it out into the light.
We can make the unconscious conscious, slowly, one piece
at a time.
essence of our experience is change. Change is incessant.
Moment by moment life flows by and it is never the same.
Perpetual alteration is the essence of the perceptual
universe. A thought springs up in you head and half
a second later, it is gone. In comes another one, and
that is gone too. A sound strikes your ears and then
silence. Open your eyes and the world pours in, blink
and it is gone. People come into your life and they
leave again. Friends go, relatives die. Your fortunes
go up and they go down. Sometimes you win and just as
often you lose. It is incessant: change, change, change.
No two moments ever the same.
is not a thing wrong with this. It is the nature of
the universe. But human culture has taught u some odd
responses to this endless flowing. We categorize experiences.
We try to stick each perception, every mental change
in this endless flow into one of three mental pigeon
holes. It is good, or it is bad, or it is neutral. Then,
according to which box we stick it in, we perceive with
a set of fixed habitual mental responses. If a particular
perception has been labeled 'good', then we try to freeze
time right there. We grab onto that particular thought,
we fondle it, we hold it, we try to keep it from escaping.
When that does not work, we go all-out in an effort
to repeat the experience which caused that thought.
Let us call this mental habit 'grasping'.
on the other side of the mind lies the box labeled 'bad'.
When we perceive something 'bad', we try to push it
away. We try to deny it, reject it, get rid of it any
way we can. We fight against our own experience. We
run from pieces of ourselves. Let us call this mental
habit 'rejecting'. Between these two reactions lies
the neutral box. Here we place the experiences which
are neither good nor bad. They are tepid, neutral, uninteresting
and boring. We pack experience away in the neutral box
so that we can ignore it and thus return jour attention
to where the action is, namely our endless round of
desire and aversion. This category of experience gets
robbed of its fair share of our attention. Let us call
this mental habit 'ignoring'. The direct result of all
this lunacy is a perpetual treadmill race to nowhere,
endlessly pounding after pleasure, endlessly fleeing
from pain, endlessly ignoring 90 percent of our experience.
Than wondering why life tastes so flat. In the final
analysis, it's a system that does not work.
matter how hard you pursue pleasure and success, there
are times when you fail. No matter how fast you flee,
there are times when pain catches up with you. And in
between those times, life is so boring you could scream.
Our minds are full of opinions and criticisms. We have
built walls all around ourselves and we are trapped
with the prison of our own lies and dislikes. We suffer.
is big word in Buddhist thought. It is a key term and
it should be thoroughly understood. The Pali word is
'dukkha', and it does not just mean the agony of the
body. It means the deep, subtle sense of unsatisfactoriness
which is a part of every mental treadmill. The essence
of life is suffering, said the Buddha. At first glance
this seems exceedingly morbid and pessimistic. It even
seems untrue. After all, there are plenty of times when
we are happy. Aren't there? No, there are not. It just
seems that way. Take any moment when you feel really
fulfilled and examine it closely. Down under the joy,
you will find that subtle, all-pervasive undercurrent
of tension, that no matter how great the moment is,
it is going to end. No matter how much you just gained,
you are either going to lose some of it or spend the
rest of your days guarding what you have got and scheming
how to get more. And in the end, you are going to die.
In the end, you lose everything. It is all transitory.
pretty bleak, doesn't it? Luckily it's not; not at all.
It only sounds bleak when you view it from the level
of ordinary mental perspective, the very level at which
the treadmill mechanism operates. Down under that level
lies another whole perspective, a completely different
way to look at the universe. It is a level of functioning
where the mind does not try to freeze time, where we
do not grasp onto our experience as it flows by, where
we do not try to block things out and ignore them. It
is a level of experience beyond good and bad, beyond
pleasure and pain. It is a lovely way to perceive the
world, and it is a learnable skill. It is not easy,
but is learnable.
and peace. Those are really the prime issues in human
existence. That is what all of us are seeking. This
often is a bit hard to see because we cover up those
basic goals with layers of surface objectives. We want
food, we want money, we want sex, possessions and respect.
We even say to ourselves that the idea of 'happiness'
is too abstract: "Look, I am practical. Just give me
enough money and I will buy all the happiness I need".
Unfortunately, this is an attitude that does not work.
Examine each of these goals and you will find they are
superficial. You want food. Why? Because I am hungry.
So you are hungry, so what? Well if I eat, I won't be
hungry and then I'll feel good. Ah ha! Feel good! Now
there is a real item. What we really seek is not the
surface goals. They are just means to an end. What we
are really after is the feeling of relief that comes
when the drive is satisfied. Relief, relaxation and
an end to the tension. Peace, happiness, no more yearning.
what is this happiness? For most of us, the perfect
happiness would mean getting everything we wanted, being
in control of everything, playing Caesar, making the
whole world dance a jig according to our every whim.
Once again, it does not work that way. Take a look at
the people in history who have actually held this ultimate
power. These were not happy people. Most assuredly they
were not men at peace with themselves. Why? Because
they were driven to control the world totally and absolutely
and they could not. They wanted to control all men and
there remained men who refused to be controlled. They
could not control the stars. They still got sick. They
still had to die.
can't ever get everything you want. It is impossible.
Luckily, there is another option. You can learn to control
your mind, to step outside of this endless cycle of
desire and aversion. You can learn to not want what
you want, to recognize desires but not be controlled
by them. This does not mean that you lie down on the
road and invite everybody to walk all over you . It
means that you continue to live a very normal-looking
life, but live from a whole new viewpoint. You do the
things that a person must do, but you are free from
that obsessive, compulsive drivenness of your own desires.
You want something, but you don't need to chase after
it. You fear something, but you don't need to stand
there quaking in your boots. This sort of mental culture
is very difficult. It takes years. But trying to control
everything is impossible, and the difficult is preferable
to the impossible.
a minute, though. Peace and happiness! Isn't that what
civilization is all about? We build skyscrapers and
freeways. We have paid vacations, TV sets. We provide
free hospitals and sick leaves, Social Security and
welfare benefits. All of that is aimed at providing
some measure of peace and happiness. Yet the rate of
mental illness climbs steadily, and the crime rates
rise faster. The streets are crawling with delinquents
and unstable individuals. Stick you arms outside the
safety of your own door and somebody is very likely
to steal your watch! Something is not working. A happy
man does not feel driven to kill. We like to think that
our society is exploiting every area of human knowledge
in order to achieve peace and happiness.
are just beginning to realize that we have overdeveloped
the material aspect of existence at the expense of the
deeper emotional and spiritual aspect, and we are paying
the price for that error. It is one thing to talk about
degeneration of moral and spiritual fiber in America
today, and another thing to do something about it. The
place to start is within ourselves. Look carefully inside,
truly and objectively, and each of us will see moments
when "I am the punk" and "I am the crazy". We will learn
to see those moments, see them clearly, cleanly and
without condemnation, and we will be on our way up and
out of being so.
can't make radical changes in the pattern of your life
until you begin to see yourself exactly as you are now.
As soon as you do that, changes flow naturally. You
don't have to force or struggle or obey rules dictated
to you by some authority. You just change. It is automatic.
But arriving at the initial insight is quite a task.
You've got to see who you are and how you are, without
illusion, judgement or resistance of any kind. You've
got to see your own place in society and your function
as a social being. You've got to see your duties and
obligations to your fellow human beings, and above all,
your responsibility to yourself as an individual living
with other individuals. And you've got to see all of
that clearly and as a unit, a single gestalt of interrelationship.
It sounds complex, but it often occurs in a single instant.
Mental culture through meditation is without rival in
helping you achieve this sort of understanding and serene
Dhammapada is an ancient Buddhist text which anticipated
Freud by thousands of years. It says: "What you are
now is the result of what you were. What you will be
tomorrow will be the result of what you are now. The
consequences of an evil mind will follow you like the
cart follows the ox that pulls it. The consequences
of a purified mind will follow you like you own shadow.
No one can do more for you than your own purified mind--
no parent, no relative, no friend, no one. A well-disciplined
mind brings happiness".
is intended to purify the mind. It cleanses the thought
process of what can be called psychic irritants, things
like greed, hatred and jealousy, things that keep you
snarled up in emotional bondage. It brings the mind
to a state of tranquility and awareness, a state of
concentration and insight.
our society, we are great believers in education. We
believe that knowledge makes a cultured person civilized.
Civilization, however, polishes the person superficially.
Subject our noble and sophisticated gentleman to stresses
of war or economic collapse, and see what happens. It
is one thing to obey the law because you know the penalties
and fear the consequences. It is something else entirely
to obey the law because you have cleansed yourself from
the greed that would make you steal and the hatred that
would make you kill. Throw a stone into a stream. The
running water would smooth the surface, but the inner
part remains unchanged. Take that same stone and place
it in the intense fires of a forge, and the whole stone
changes inside and outside. It all melts. Civilization
changes man on the outside. Meditation softens him within,
through and through.
is called the Great Teacher. It is the cleansing crucible
fire that works slowly through understanding. The greater
your understanding, the more flexible and tolerant you
can be. The greater your understanding, the more compassionate
you can be. You become like a perfect parent or an ideal
teacher. You are ready to forgive and forget. You feel
love towards others because you understand them. And
you understand others because you have understood yourself.
You have looked deeply inside and seen self illusion
and your own human failings. You have seen your own
humanity and learned to forgive and to love. When you
have learned compassion for yourself, compassion for
others is automatic. An accomplished meditator has achieved
a profound understanding of life, and he inevitably
relates to the world with a deep and uncritical love.
is a lot like cultivating a new land. To make a field
out of a forest, fist you have to clear the trees and
pull out the stumps. Then you till the soil and you
fertilize it. Then you sow your seed and you harvest
your crops. To cultivate your mind, first you have to
clear out the various irritants that are in the way,
pull them right out by the root so that they won't grow
back. Then you fertilize. You pump energy and discipline
in the mental soil. Then you sow the seed and you harvest
your crops of faith, morality , mindfulness and wisdom.
and morality, by the way, have a special meaning in
this context. Buddhism does not advocate faith in the
sense of believing something because it is written in
a book or attributed to a prophet or taught to you by
some authority figure. The meaning here is closer to
confidence. It is knowing that something is true because
you have seen it work, because you have observed that
very thing within yourself. In the same way, morality
is not a ritualistic obedience to some exterior, imposed
code of behavior.
purpose of meditation is personal transformation. The
you that goes in one side of the meditation experience
is not the same you that comes out the other side. It
changes your character by a process of sensitization,
by making you deeply aware of your own thoughts, word,
and deeds. Your arrogance evaporated and your antagonism
dries up. Your mind becomes still and calm. And your
life smoothes out. Thus meditation properly performed
prepares you to meet the ups and down of existence.
It reduces your tension, your fear, and your worry.
Restlessness recedes and passion moderates. Things begin
to fall into place and your life becomes a glide instead
of a struggle. All of this happens through understanding.
sharpens your concentration and your thinking power.
Then, piece by piece, your own subconscious motives
and mechanics become clear to you. Your intuition sharpens.
The precision of your thought increases and gradually
you come to a direct knowledge of things as they really
are, without prejudice and without illusion. So is this
reason enough to bother? Scarcely. These are just promises
on paper. There is only one way you will ever know if
meditation is worth the effort. Learn to do it right,
and do it. See for yourself.