How delusions develop

When I was about five, I got knocked over by a taxi.

I remember it very clearly: my mum and I were crossing a road outside King’s Cross station; the lights changed when we were halfway across, and the taxi driver got impatient and nudged forward onto the crossing. The front of the car bumped into my mum; she bumped into me; I fell over. My mother, naturally, got very cross and started yelling at the taxi driver (this bit was rather entertaining).

As a result of this experience, I developed a deep distrust of taxi drivers and nursed this resentment for at least the next ten years. Then, for some reason, the topic came up in conversation, and I said to my mum, ‘Remember that time I got knocked over by a taxi?’

She said, ‘No: I don’t remember that.’ I described it in detail, but she was adamant: ‘Believe me, if someone had run my daughter over there is no way I would ever forget it!’

Image result for it was all a dream typographyThat was when I realised that the whole thing had never happened at all: I must have dreamt it and, being so young, been unable to distinguish the dream from reality. I had spent a decade being annoyed about something that took place only in my head. All that anger towards taxi drivers had absolutely no basis.

This is actually true of all our delusions: they are all completely without basis in reality. The object they focus on does not actually exist, because what we see is an exaggeration of what is actually there.

The deluded mind of hatred, for example, views another person as intrinsically bad, but there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad person. Desirous attachment, on the other hand, sees its object of desire as intrinsically good and as a true source of happiness. If we have a strong craving to eat chocolate, chocolate appears to us to be an intrinsically desirable object. However, once we have eaten too much of it and start to feel sick, it no longer seems so desirable and may even appear repulsive. This shows that in itself chocolate is neither desirable nor repulsive. It is the mind of attachment that projects onto it all kinds of desirable qualities and then relates to it as if it really did possess those qualities.

~ Eight Steps to Happiness

We exaggerate good and bad qualities and this gives rise to attachment and anger; but the greatest exaggeration of all is exaggerating the way in which things exist. In just the same way that my dream taxi driver formed the basis for what seemed like a totally justified anger, so too all the dream-like appearances of our daily lives are misinterpreted as a valid basis for our negative thoughts.

All our delusions are called ‘mistaken awarenesses’ because their objects appear to them to be truly existent when in fact they are not. Everything is just a mere appearance to our mind that arises from our karma, but we exaggerate its degree of existence and believe it to exist separate from the mind. This ignorance then forms the basis for all the further exaggerations: we go from ‘this is truly existent’ to ‘this is truly good’ or ‘this is truly bad.’

Really and truly… just like my taxi driver.

Do you have a dirty mind?

While I was busy doing someone else’s washing up (ah, the joys of communal living), I gave a bit of thought to how the state of my mind was creating my world. I constantly perceive a dirty kitchen, but where does that dirt come from?

Because our world, our self, our enjoyments and our activities are the nature of our mind, when our mind is impure they are impure, and when our mind becomes pure through purification practice they become pure. When we completely purify our mind through Tantric practice, our world, our self, our enjoyments and our activities also become completely pure – this is the state of enlightenment. Attaining enlightenment is therefore very simple; all we need to do is apply effort to purifying our mind.

We know that when our mind is impure because we are feeling angry with our friend, we see him as bad; but when our mind is pure because we are feeling affectionate love for the same friend, we see him as good. Therefore, it is because of changing our own mind from pure to impure or from impure to pure that for us our friend changes from good to bad or from bad to good. This indicates that everything that is good, bad or neutral for us is a projection of our mind and has no existence outside our mind.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Modern Buddhism: The Path of Compassion and Wisdom – Volume 2 Tantra 

Interesting… my dirty kitchen is a manifestation of my dirty mind. This is actually wonderful news because it means that at some point this pile of washing up will end. I mean end permanently and not magically reappear overnight. It is incredible to think that just through the power of purifying our mind, our whole experience can change. If you don’t know the story of Lam Chung, look it up in Joyful Path of Good Fortune – it’s so inspiring. At the end, after years of cleaning the temple, Lam Chung realises that all the dirt is just coming from his mind, and attains a direct realisation of emptiness without needing to do any study or meditation!

Image result for kadampa vajrasattvaOn one level, all the spiritual practice we do is a purification: as the quote above tells us, every time we change our view from anger to love, for example, our mind becomes purer. But we can also engage in specific purification practices to speed up the process and make it easier to change our minds. The practices of Vajrasattva or the 35 Confession Buddhas are designed especially to help us purify negative karma – even if we just give ten minutes a day to one of these practices, it will have a very powerful impact.

When I have cleaned the kitchen, for some strange reason I expect it to stay clean. I’ve done that job once, and now it’s sorted forever. As if! And it’s the same with our minds: we can’t just purify once and thank ‘job done.’ We need to keep scrubbing until all the ingrained dirt has been removed. We will know we have finished purifying when we no longer experience any mental or physical suffering. And the kitchen will look clean too because we will be living in a pure land.

I’m not suggesting that you abandon doing any washing-up until then – you can make cleaning into a purification practice too. In Joyful Path of Good Fortune, it says:

While we are cleaning we should regard all the dust and dirt as the filth of our own non-virtuous actions and delusions, thinking `This is the dirt of my ignorance – I am removing it. These are the stains of my destructive deeds – I am eliminating them.’ If we have an especially strong emotional problem, such as strong desirous attachment, we can concentrate on it and clean vigorously, thinking `This is the grime of my attachment. I am extracting it from my mind.’ 

So, what about other kitchen-users who are always leaving me a mess to clear up – how do things appear to them? I tend to assume (with my grumpy mind) that they are being inconsiderate… but what if the dirt doesn’t appear to their minds? Some people really do seem oblivious: are they being lazy, or do they just have purer minds than I do? Maybe, from their point of view, there is nothing that needs cleaning at all. I’d better do a bit more cleaning to catch up.

Take this further: Purification Retreat

The light of wisdom

Image result for manjushriWisdom is our best friend, an inner voice that never leads us astray; and our best friend looks like this, the beautiful Wisdom Buddha Manjushri.

Right from the first time we hear a Dharma teaching, we are being encouraged to develop our wisdom realising that happiness depends upon the mind. Gradually, this simple understanding develops into the wisdom realising emptiness, seeing directly that everything arises from mind. To help us make this journey, we can rely on Manjushri. A lot of people get a bit discouraged about Buddha’s wisdom teachings – maybe you’ve read a chapter on ultimate truth in one of the books and thought ‘that’s way too intellectual and complicated for me.’ If it seems complicated, we can ask for Manjushri’s blessings to help us understand; and if it seems intellectual, we can ask for Manjushri’s blessings to help us realise that we’ve missed the point and need to focus on the practical value!

Buddha Manjushri carries a wisdom sword that can cut through our ignorance and unknowing. In the prayer Homage to Manjushri, it says:

‘Your sword held aloft dispels the darkness of ignorance,
And cuts through all roots of suffering.’

The closer we get to Manjushri, the more our wisdom will grow; but to get close to someone, you first have to meet them! An empowerment is where we are introduced to a Buddha. The teacher granting the empowerment will have spent some time in retreat, developing a deep connection with Manjushri; a connection that they then share with us. On the basis of this introduction, we can then form a close relationship with Manjushri, until he becomes like a friend we can rely on and trust with anything.

No automatic alt text available.There’s a wonderful story about Manjushri in How to Understand the Mind, where a famous teacher called Dharmakirti is trying to write a Dharma book. He keeps trying to explain the topic to a neighbour, but the man doesn’t understand and keeps getting angry and erasing everything Dharmakirti has written. Finally, Dharmakirti gets totally discouraged and decides there’s no point writing about wisdom because no-one ever gets it. He throws his manuscript up in the air, saying ‘When this book hits the ground, I’m giving up.’

But the manuscript never comes down. Dharmakirti looks up and sees that Buddha Manjushri has appeared in the middle of space and caught the book before it could fall. So he realises that he has to carry on with his task.

I love this story because it shows how important it is to keep on trying to understand and to teach Buddha’s wisdom, and it also shows that Manjushri is always there to help encourage us.

More: Manjushri Empowerment

I believe in Buddhas because they’re not real

“We should understand that ultimately nothing is true except emptiness.” ~ Eight Steps to Happiness

Human beings have a deep craving for absolute truth; the idea that we cannot find any such thing may be frightening, but is also liberating, because our tendency to ascribe things too much validity is a very limiting factor. Take for example our relationship to science: we relate to the things we’re taught in school as scientific fact.

“In science, there are no universal truths, just views of the world that have yet to be shown to be false.”
― Brian Cox, Why Does E=mc²?

Actual scientists understand that the model of the universe we work with is not an absolute truth: it is simply correct in so far as it works (most of the time, except when quarks mess up the measurements). It functions, and we can use it, that’s all. The problem is when we grasp onto it. For most of us, gravity is a fact: real and fixed and obvious through our own experience. Apparently not – gravity is seriously outdated, it’s all something to do with the curvature of space-time these days. Of course, our feet stay on the ground either way; but if we grasp onto one unassailable fact, there is no longer any room for progress.

I use scientific progress as an example here because it’s quite easy to see, but the same is true of our more metaphysical explorations. There are no facts to hold on to. But again, we want to make things more real than they are, holding onto the one and only correct way of filling an offering bowl and a host of other things. To quote my teacher, Kadam Bridget Heyes, ‘there are many shades of right,’ because there are many different ways of doing things that can have the same function: it all depends upon our mind. I believe in Buddha’s teachings because they function to produce a beneficial result – which they can do only because nothing exists inherently.

“Conventional objects such as people, trees, atoms, and planets have a relative degree of reality that distinguishes them from non-existents such as square circles and unicorns; but only the ultimate nature, or emptiness, of phenomena is true, because it is only emptiness that exists in the way that it appears. Objects exist only in relation to the minds that cognize them. Since an object’s nature and characteristics depend upon the mind that beholds it, we can change the objects we see by changing the way we see them. We can choose to view ourself, other people, and our world in whatever way is most beneficial. By steadfastly maintaining a positive view we gradually come to inhabit a positive world, and eventually a Pure Land.”

Everything is dependent-related: if we see our Spiritual Guide as a Buddha, he functions as a Buddha for us. Does that mean that if you don’t believe in Buddhas they don’t exist for you? No; emptiness doesn’t mean that you can just believe in anything, because a conventional truth must be able to perform its function. Things appear out of emptiness in dependence upon our karma – the state of our mind – and we all have the karma for Buddha to have appeared in this world and function to bestow blessings. Of course, we can’t see that function directly, but establishing emptiness through valid logical reasoning shows us how the existence of Buddhas is possible.

When we meditate on emptiness we let go of everything. Although that emptiness really is a universal truth, it is merely an absence; there is nothing to hold onto. Then we start to understand conventional truth: things can function only because they lack true existence. Everything becomes less real, like a dream; but Buddhas are just as real as anything else. All the Buddhas are just an appearance to my mind, but that doesn’t make them less real than me; from their point of view, I am just an appearance to their mind, after all.

The Wisdom of Wizards

So, this is probably the oddest topic I have ever chosen for a blog post, but I plan to impersonate a wizard at our Fundraising Fancy Dress Picnic next month and I am transforming this activity into a teaching on wisdom by seeing what inspiring words the great magic-users of literature have to share. Milarepa said that everything he encountered was his teacher, and Albus Dumbledore certainly gives some good Dharma advice:

‘To the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.’

Encouragement not only to contemplate our death, but to prepare for death by working with our own mind. If we use our life wisely, then death will no longer be something to fear:

‘When death actually comes we shall feel like a child returning to the home of its parents, and pass away joyfully, without fear.’
– Geshe Kelsang, Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully

Professor Dumbledore is also very encouraging when it comes to focusing on our potential:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

We are not fixed, we change in dependence upon our choices: with every action we are shaping ourselves into new people, eventually into Buddhas. I may have a great ability to deceive others, for example, but this does not control who I am: I can choose to act against this harmful instinct and through my choices become a better person.

We can also gain some insight into compassion from Gandalf:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.”

Magic gives the wizard great power, and so they can teach us about how to use power wisely – which is, in essence, the practice of moral discipline. This is from one of my favorite books, Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea:

“The truth is that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing but does only and wholly what he must do.”

Moral discipline is walking a narrow path – but it does not feel restrictive because it is a path chosen by our wisdom that knows right from wrong. As our practice of Buddhism deepens, we do find that our choices are simplified: as we see more clearly how to bring happiness to ourselves and others, then it is obvious what we need to do.

And to conclude, some words of wisdom from the creator of Harry Potter, who tells us that we all have our own magic:

‘We do not need magic to change the world – we have all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.’

Help us make the magic happen: Fancy Dress Fundraiser

Six impossible things

Inspired by our Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, I decided to believe six ‘impossible’ things. There are many things I believe in now that would have seemed impossible to me before I discovered Buddha’s teachings, and still more things that it would be helpful to stretch my imagination around. For example, do you really believe it’s possible to be happy all the time, regardless of external conditions? Many people would say that’s an impossibility, and because of mistakenly holding onto that view they limit their own potential for happiness.

When Alice says ‘One can’t believe impossible things’, the Red Queen replies ‘I dare say you haven’t had enough practice.’ This is true for us as well: with familiarity, we can expand our mind to fit in new ideas, realizing that they only seemed impossible because of our limited view.

In particular, we expand our mind by increasing our wisdom realizing emptiness. Our faith in all Buddha’s teachings, and in our own potential to realize them, will be supported by this wisdom. For example, I believe in Pure Lands – the pure world created by an Enlightened mind – because I understand that this world is no more than a dream-like appearance that will become gradually purer as I  purify my mind.

Nagarjuna said ‘for whom emptiness is possible, everything is possible.’ My favorite ever story is from Ocean of Nectar:

“One day, his Abbot decided that it would be beneficial if Chandrakirti were to demonstrate his meditative powers and mental freedom to the other monks. To this end, he appointed Chandrakirti as storekeeper to the monastery, a post that involved the great responsibility of looking after the cows and buffaloes kept by the monastery to supply its dairy produce. Chandrakirti, however, refused to take milk from the animals because he felt it should be saved for their young, and he left them to wander freely on the neighboring hills. Nevertheless, he still managed to provide the monks with an abundant supply of dairy produce!

One day Chandrakirti and his assistant Suryakirti were summoned before the Abbot and the assembled monks and asked to explain how they managed to provide such an abundant supply of food while the animals were roaming unattended on the hills. To the great delight of the entire assembly Suryakirti explained that Chandrakirti had painted a picture of a cow on a wall and was drawing from this picture all the milk that was required:

Glorious Chandrakirti perfectly sustains and nourishes the monks
By drawing milk from pictures of cows!”

When I fully understand Buddha’s teachings on the union of the two truths, I will see how it is possible to milk a picture of a cow; until then, how can I say what is impossible? A more useful question is what is it more beneficial to believe? Why don’t you think of your own list of six impossible things, six beneficial beliefs that are made possible by your understanding of Dharma. Here’s mine:

  1. That big hairy biker is really my mother
  2. One day, I will have a dragon (Pema Shugden has one; I want one too)
  3. Time is merely imputed, so Monday morning is actually longer than Friday afternoon
  4. My invisible friend is with me always, like the shadow of my body
  5. The Pure Land in my head is real
  6. I will become a Buddha

Please share your six impossible things!

P.S. If this all sounds impossible, try reading: Holding on to rainbows | We are such stuff as dreams are made on


A children’s play

This is a play, not a post. I wrote it for our Family Weekend, but I thought you might like it too. You can find the original story in Joyful Path of Good Fortune, on page 42.


The Story of Lam Chung


Lam Chung
Narrator / Buddha
Lam Chen

Lam Chung is sitting as a desk looking bored. The rest of the cast sit at the front of the audience.


Once upon a time there was a boy called Lam Chung who hated school. He found it difficult to remember anything. He was probably dyslexic, but nobody cared.


Tell me, Lam Chung, what did Shakespeare mean when he said ‘All the world’s a stage?

Lam Chung:

I couldn’t even finish Harry Potter, how am I supposed to know what Shakespeare was talking about?!


You stupid boy!

Rest of cast:

Stupid! You idiot! Etc


Lam Chung failed his exams, and when he left school he didn’t know what to do. His brother was a Buddhist monk, so Lam Chung decided to go and live with him.

Lam Chung gets up from desk and mimes knocking on a door. Lam Chen opens it.

Lam Chen:

Hey little brother! What are you doing here?

Lam Chung:

I’ve got nowhere else to go.

Lam Chen:

Well, you can’t just move into a Buddhist Centre without being involved with the community, you know. You have to be on lots of rotas and study programmes.

Lam Chung looks terrified

OK, tell you what: I’ll just give you one little thing from Buddha’s teachings, and if you learn that you can stay, alright? May everyone be happy; may everyone be free from suffering. That’s it: you got that?

Lam Chung:

Yes, that’s great, I can do that! Err…. Can you write that down for me so I can practice?

Lam Chen hands him a piece of paper and sits down. Lam Chung sits at desk.

Lam Chung:

Ok, I can do this! May… everyone.. be… happy. [closes eyes] May everyone be…? Arrgh!


Lam Chung studied hard, but it just wouldn’t stick.

Lam Chung bangs his head on the desk

Lam Chen:

[calling from audience] it’s been two days already. Have you got it yet?

Lam Chung:



He thought maybe if he practiced outside the fresh air might help him think, so he went and sat in the farmer’s field with the sheep.

Farmer stands downstage with the rest of cast behind him as sheep

Lam Chung:

May everyone feel crappy? May everyone be free from happiness?


Come on, son, it’s not that hard! You’ve read it out so many times that I’ve learnt it by now.

Rest of cast:

[imitating sheep] may everyone baaaaaaaaaaaa happy!


See, even the sheep know it better than you!

Lam Chung sits back at desk looking miserable. Rest of cast except Lam Chen return to their places.

Lam Chen:

Do you know the verse now, little brother?

Lam Chung:

No.  I’m too thick; I’ll never learn it.

Lam Chen:

Well then, you can’t stay here. Go home to mum and dad and they can think of something else to do with you!

Lam Chung, trying not to cry, begins to walk off stage. The narrator as Buddha intercepts him.


Hey, what’s wrong? Why are you leaving?

Lam Chung:

Because I am so stupid I can’t memorize even one verse of scripture. Now even my own brother has given up on me.


Oh, don’t worry about you brother; my name’s Buddha Shakyamuni, and I’m in charge round here, not him! You don’t have to leave. Buddhism isn’t just about learning things out of books, there is something for everyone. I’ll give you a job that you’ll be good at, and you are welcome to stay. You can be in charge of cleaning the meditation room, and when you clean just imagine that you are cleaning all the bad thoughts out of your mind. OK?

Lam Chung:

That’s wonderful! Thank you, Buddha… what was your name again?

Narrator laughs and returns upstage. Lam Chung collects a hoover and begins hoovering stage right, humming happily.

Lam Chung:

Perfect! My mind feels cleaner already. Now the other side!

 [moves to stage left and hoovers, then looks to the right]

Oh! I swear it was clean a minute ago, but it needs hoovering again now. How wonderful! I love my new job.


For years, Lam Chung was happy to keep cleaning the meditation room, and as he did this his mind became freed from all negative thoughts. He never ran out of things to do, because whenever he finished vacuuming one side of the room, Buddha would magically empty the dirt back out onto the other side! But Lam Chung never got upset, because he knew that it was helping him to be happier and happier.

[Lam Chung continues to hoover one side, then the other.]

Lam Chung:

Phew! I’ve been doing this a long time. I wonder where all this dust keeps appearing from? Oh! I understand now! It’s all just coming from my mind! When my mind is dirty, the world appears to be dirty too.

[He sits on the throne and meditates]


[comes downstage as Buddha] Well done Lam Chung. I think it’s about time you gave a teaching to show everyone what you have learnt. Come on everybody, come and listen to Lam Chung!

Lam Chen:

You can’t be serious! My brother’s an idiot. He’s done nothing but clean for years, what can he possibly teach us?!

[the cast sits around the throne]

Lam Chung:

I will now give a teaching on one verse of Dharma. It’s the verse that previously I couldn’t learn, even after months of trying: may everyone be happy, may everyone be free from suffering.


The teaching lasted for three days, and Lam Chung never ran out of things to say, because he now understood all of Buddha’s teachings. All of the people listening were amazed and became very peaceful and happy.

[cast prostrates to Lam Chung]

Science & Religion

It seems like more and more people are viewing science as an alternative to religion, believing in the views of science because they are based on emperical evidence. Scientific knowledge is based on experiments, on seeing the same result produced again and again; but Buddhist practice is also emperical. In Modern Buddhism, Geshe-la says that these teachings are a scientific method for increasing the capacity of our mind – they are called scientific because they depend on conducting experiments. We are told ‘try developing inner peace and see if it makes you happy’; we try it and it works, consistantly, time after time.

Consistantly stable results are what science calls proof; really, it just proves a probability. The philosopher Hume pointed out that making an empirical study of swans might lead you to conclude that all swans are white; but this is only because you haven’t seen a black swan yet. In the same way, we believe that the sun will rise tomorrow. Why? Because it always has. This establishes a high probability that it will do so again tomorrow; but it does not prove that it definitely will.

The Buddhist methodology offers empirical evidence, like science does; but it also provides a logical basis. The logical reasoning establishing ultimate truth underpins all of Buddha’s teachings – so we can be confident not only that having inner peace makes us feel good, but that there can be no other true cause of happiness. Empiricism and logic together can give us a faith that is beyong the mere belief we have in scientific theory. I’m not saying science is wrong: it does generally seem to explain things quite well. But I still have more faith in my religion. For example, quamtum physicists can predict the behavior of quantum particles by analysing their previous behavior; but the teachings on emptiness can explain why the behavior of sub-atomic particles is affected by our perception.

I love science, it made this computer; but I don’t have faith in it, because I don’t believe it can take me anywhere fundamentally different. Science can manipulate the world, but because it is purely empirical it can only make changes to what we already have in front of us. Only Buddha explains that the very nature of this world depends upon our mind: that logic gives us the power to form a different kind of empiricism, one that is based on internal, not external, observation.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on

That’s a quote from The Tempest, if you didn’t recognize it:

These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

I don’t know if Shakespeare was actually giving a teaching on ultimate truth here, but it sounds to me like he received Buddha’s blessings before writing this. This world that we perceive as so solid and real is an insubstantial pageant, that dissolves when we search for it with wisdom.

Buddha said it more clearly (if a bit less poetically): everything is dependent upon other things. Je Tsongkhapa gave prehaps the most succint teaching on dependent relationship: ‘From this comes that. How wonderful!’ That really does say it all… but for those of us with slightly less developed minds, a bit more elaboration is required.

All things depend upon causes, so they are in a constant state of change; our view of their fixed nature is incorrect. Geshe-la says:

“If all the necessary atmospheric causes and conditions come together, clouds will appear. If these are absent, clouds cannot form. The clouds are completely dependent upon causes and conditions for their development; without these they have no power to develop. The same is true for mountains, planets, bodies, minds, and all other produced phenomena. Because they depend upon factors outside themselves for their existence, they are empty of inherent, or independent, existence and are mere imputations of the mind.”

Eight Steps to Happiness

Without its causes, a rainbow cannot appear; and one of those causes is us, the observer. We can understand clearly that without our viewing the rainbow from our particular location, there would be no rainbow. This example can help us to see that everything is a dependant arising that cannot exist under its own power. Like a rainbow dissapears when you go in search of it, when you search for anything with wisdom, it disappears into emptiness.

All things depend on parts; not even the smallest atom is independent. Our body is made up of parts such as the hand; the hand is also made up of parts, such as the fingers; each finger is likewise made up of parts, right down to the atomic level. And each atom is also made up of parts; there is no such thing as a partless particle. Physicists keep looking, but they haven’t found one yet, and they never will, because it’s a logical impossibility: everything can be mentally divided into its directional parts, its past and presents moments, etc.

Sorry, got a bit technical there – but it’s important, because if we know that everything depends on parts, we can let go of it having inherent, or independent, existence. If our body, for example, is made up of lots of parts which are not the body, then what makes all these different parts into a body? Our mind. We call the assembly of parts ‘body’, and body appears. This shows that everything is imputed by mind, like things in a dream.

Since the world is not fixed, we can create the world we wish for by changing our mind.

Holding on to rainbows

Do we want a life of meaning or a life of happiness?

A guest article by Michelle E Grimwood 

A friend was talking to me recently about an article she had read which posed the question of ‘What is more important in life, happiness or meaning?’ The inference was that people chose either a life of happiness or a life of meaning. The article she described considered these were two were separate and conflicting choices. People either worked towards securing one or the other.

This raised an interesting repose from me.  As a Buddhist and having studied many of the texts explaining the path to enlightenment, it was very clear to me that the question in itself was  flawed, it showed a lack of understanding that meaning and happiness are not  conflicting and contradictory terms, in fact they were co-dependent and inter related.  One was not in possible without the other. The fault in this line of this questioning in my view was mainly in understanding what happiness is, and what we mean by the expression a meaningful life.

In the extensive teachings Buddha gave, which he shared to help humans achieve their potential for both happiness and meaning, he asked the question of  “what is the most meaningful thing one could do with a human life?“ When he encouraged humans to contemplate deeply the point and purpose of their life, he asked “what is our deepest wish for ourselves?”  Expanding on this further he asked “when we think about others that we care for, what are our deepest wishes for them?“ He concluded that as humans we share a common wish, a universal wish, as humans our deepest and most consistent wish for ourselves and those we cherish, is that we wish for happiness.

He went on to explain that the most meaningful thing we can do with our life, the greatest meaning in  human life was to achieve our potential to be happy. In this way we could help others to never be separated from their happiness.  Therefore meaning and happiness were dependent related and one was not possible without the other.

It was from this understanding and motivation that he went on to give one of the most extensive and comprehensive discourses on human happiness  known as The Four Noble Truths.  In this he explained that if we understood the true causes for happiness we could develop it.  In order to do this he focused on the need to understand the things that stand in the way of our happiness, the nature and origins of human suffering.  Through having considered and understood these, then through developing wisdom, it was possible to follow inner methods that would eventually  release all living beings from these sufferings . In this way we humans can overcome the  inner obstacles  which stand in the way of  our happiness.

If we want success in our strive for happiness, according to Buddha compassion and wisdom are the two key principles to cultivate.

Compassion is the mind that helps us understand suffering and  is how we recognise our  deep wishes for ourselves and others. Wisdom is a mind that helps us consider truth and the true nature of things, which helps us overcome our mistaken views, so we can relate better to our self, others and the world.

Compassion in Buddhist philosophy is defined very simply as ‘the mind that wishes others to be free from suffering’.   Love is defined as ‘the mind that wishes others to be happy.’ Behind these simple definitions there are extensive method practises explained in order to understand and  cultivate minds of love, compassion and wisdom.  These include the  teachings on the six perfections.

In ‘Eights Steps to Happiness’ and ‘Universal Compassion’ the author Venrable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains the methods Buddha outlined in developing  love and compassion,  he explains how we can consider suffering in ways that are helpful in developing  both our own good qualities and our potential to be happy.  The key messages in these teachings are that there are many good qualities in suffering and through deeply contemplating these, we can learn more about the mind of  renunciation, affection, cherishing and  love.  It is love and compassion that will both protect us and motivate us on this path of finding happiness.

Wisdom and compassion are described in ‘Modern Buddhism’ as like two wings of a bird, just as a bird needs two wings to fly, we humans need both wisdom and compassion if we are interested in actual happiness, an enlightened mind that is free from suffering and its causes.  We may be able to develop the best intentions through cultivating compassion; however, compassion alone is not enough for us to be truly happy. We also need wisdom.

In the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, wisdom is defined as a mind that realizes the ultimate nature of all phenomena.  The wisdom teachings explore truth as a concept  and the true nature of all things.  Generally speaking there are two divisions in truth, conventional truths and ultimate truths.  The former relate to how things appear and the later relate to how things exist.

Buddha explained that as humans we make a fundamental mistake as we go about our daily lives, we believe the things that appear are real and true and so we  relate to this appearance accordingly.  That is why we get confused, continue to create suffering and in our search for happiness we are actually often destroying our chances of achieving it.  We are mistaken.

It is only through understanding our mind, that we can consider deeply the conventional nature of  all things and  understand what we see, how the things that appear to us differ from how they actually exist.

The wisdom teachings are as easy as they are complex.  The easily read version concludes, things do not exist in the way they appear.  Everything we experience is created by mind. There is no creator other than mind. Everything is dependent on the mind that perceives it.   Our experiences and perceptions are simply the result of causes and effect.  Conditions coming together and conditions dissolving.

Once we understand this profundity, that things do not actually exist in the way we perceive them, that the way things appear and the way things exist  differ, we are close to understanding the distinctions of conventional and ultimate truth. Once we understand this, we will no longer hold mistaken views.  Our happiness will then be possible as we will be able to relate to our world and all things in it correctly.

Ultimate truth, as set out by Buddha, is that all things lack inherent existence, there is no permanent phenomena to be found in the world we inhabit. All things are in a state of change, conditions are changing moment by moment.  Things appear when the conditions come together and then dissolve or cease when the conditions change.

There is no permanence. Everything is simply a transitory experience of conditions, causes and effects, things coming together, arising, appearing and dissolving.  This is the essence of the teachings on emptiness; things lack the solidity we ascribe to them. Once the causes are created, we experience the effect; therefore everything we know is in a state of coming and going, either arising, appearing or dissolving.

We do in part understand this, but also as humans we have a great skill in ignoring or denying this. This is our fundamental mistake in our search for happiness, meaning and real freedom.  We have a tendency to think this logic applies to some things, but we deny this applies to everything.

We know for example that when certain causes come together certain appearance will follow; on a sunny day when it also rains it is quite likely that a rainbow will appear in the sky.  Although we know that the rainbow is simply a transitory appearance, appearing through certain conditions coming together, what appears is a rainbow.   A rainbow appears to anyone who may happen to be looking in  that part of the sky at that time, for those in other places or not looking at the sky, no rainbow appears for them.  The rainbow will only appear to those who apprehend it and it is simply an appearance caused by certain conditions coming together.

If we are looking at the rainbow and it appears for us, we also know that the rainbow will dissolve, as soon as the conditions change, we recognise it is not permanent it is transitory,  it will dissolve, disappear as an appearance, at some point  it will no longer appear.

We also know that if we search  closely for the rainbow we will not be able to find it, it is just an appearance to the mind that apprehends it.  If we are trying to take a picture for example  of the appearing rainbow and we zoom our camera lens  in very closely, we will not find the rainbow, the closer our lens takes us, the more elusive the appearance becomes.

We may at a certain point find a coloured spectrum of light, but  if we continue to zoom in, the closer we  get to the appearing rainbow, the more elusive it becomes, the quicker it will dissolve. The more obvious its lack of existence becomes. Yet  when we take our eye from the camera, again a rainbow may vividly appear.  It is the same with the blue of a blue sky, the closer we get to it, the more we realise we cannot find it, it is but an appearance.

In understanding the way the rainbow appears, due to causes and conditions,  we also understand that the only thing for us to do is consider the appearance as it manifests,  enjoy it whilst it appears, and understand it is temporary and  will dissolve.

We do not get sad when the rainbow dissolves, because we understand that is its nature.  We do not  think  we could put the rainbow in a box and take it home to enjoy whenever we fancy, because we understand the rainbow only arises from certain causes and conditions.

This is how it is with all phenomena. There is nothing in our appearing world that is exempt from this. We can only realize this with wisdom. Wisdom helps us to overcome ignorance, and gives us confidence and logical methods to understanding the nature of truth,  this truth and all truth. The true nature of all things.  Ultimate Truth. With wisdom we understand  that we do not need to be angry or afraid of what we might lose if we accept the true nature of things.

With wisdom and compassion, happiness and meaning are not only possible but inevitable.  There is no contradiction between happiness and meaning just as is there no separation. With both we are more like a person seeing a rainbow and smiling, enjoying it while it appears. Knowing  and appreciating it for what it is.

Without wisdom and compassion, we are more like  a person wanting to  take the rainbow from the sky and keep it for ourselves,  foolishly thinking we can claim and hold on to the rainbow, put it in a box for own pleasure, only to be surprised  and disappointed, feeling it unfair that someone else had stolen our rainbow, when opening the box we find it empty.