We have the potential to free ourselves from all our problems, but firstly we need to correctly identify them. In How To Solve Our Human Problems, Geshe Kelsang says:
To solve our human problems and enable us to find everlasting peace and happiness, Buddha gave the most profound teachings for us to use as practical advice. His teachings are known as ‘Dharma’, which means supreme protection from suffering. Dharma is the actual method to solve our human problems. To understand this, first we should consider what is the real nature of our problems and what are their main causes.
Our problems do not exist outside our mind. The real nature of our problems is our unpleasant feelings, which are part of our mind. When our car, for example, has a problem, we often say, ‘I have a problem’, but in reality it is not our problem but the car’s problem. Our problems develop only when we experience unpleasant feelings. The car’s problems exist outside the mind, whereas our problems are inside our mind. By differentiating between animate and inanimate problems like this, we can understand that the real nature of our problems is our own feelings, which are part of our mind.
Once we acknowledge that the source of our suffering is within us, we can begin to break free. It might seem easier to just fix our car (and all the other outer problems) and get on with life … but this can never be a permanent solution. We can become free from suffering, but not by running away from it. We must have the courage to face it and see its real nature.
Geshe Kelsang has said it is meaningless to think about our own suffering unless we want to develop renunciation, the wish for permanent freedom from all suffering and its causes. Dwelling on our own problems outside of the context of renunciation can just lead to depression. We tend to bat away one problem at a time, which is a bit exhausting and overwhelming. This is one reason why we need genuine renunciation, a compassion for ourselves that wants to be free from the whole ocean of samara, not just one wave at a time.
Interestingly, we can be overwhelmingly sad about any given daily mental or physical suffering, but when we manage to view that in the bigger existential context of the four noble truths and develop renunciation our mind becomes lighter and happier, already on the side of liberation, on the side of the solution.
Imagine you’d been born in a prison but had no idea, and you spent your life complaining about the prison food, the bars on the window that ruined your view, the rough and annoying people around you, the cold showers …. You tried to fix these problems as they arose, with greater or lesser success, but generally the whole experience was frustrating. Then someone comes along and says, “Your actual problem is that you are in prison. Until you get out, you are going to experience prison problems, whatever you do.” Buddha was like that when he pointed out the truth of suffering, the first of the four noble truths, likening samsara to a prison. It was not to depress us that he explained how we suffer from mental and physical pain, but to energize us to break out of the prison of suffering, whose walls and prison guards are our own delusions and negative actions.