Changing our mind – it sounds so simple!

May 12, 2022


The idea that we can change our mind — mold our mind into any shape we like, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche puts it — is really simple. Conceptually, it’s not complicated. But because it’s so utterly different from the way we think, and have been thinking, Buddha would say, for countless eons, it’s incredibly difficult. 

First, why should we change our minds, anyway? Buddha’s saying that what goes on in our mind is the main source of our happiness and suffering, so if we want happiness and don’t want suffering, we need to reconfigure it.

Technically speaking, it’s really easy to think one thought and then change it to another thought. We do this all the time when it comes to learning music, learning cooking: you start with no proper thoughts at all and then gradually fill your mind with thoughts about music and thoughts about cooking. But when it comes to changing our thoughts about our own self and our relationships, it’s like moving a mountain! 

But why is it that we don’t even realize that’s the job we’re supposed to do? I mean, there are so many things conspiring against us doing this deceptively simple job of changing our thoughts from delusions such as attachment and anger – the cause of our suffering – to virtuous appropriate thoughts like love and patience – the cause of our happiness.

A major reason is that we utterly believe that the outside world is the source of happiness and suffering so we spend our lives trying to change that, and because we’re living in a world that reflects that view back to us, it reinforces this view. In fact, as Rinpoche points out, most humans have no idea even that what goes on in our minds plays any role at all in our lives! That’s pretty shocking, but check it out.

Buddha’s not saying that the outside world doesn’t play a role; clearly it does. But he says we’re missing the main thing: our mind, our thoughts, our viewpoints, our conceptual stories about ourselves and the outside world.

It doesn’t even occur to us when things go wrong that we should change our mind. The things and people and events out there loom so large. When that mean person says something, when that person accuses us, when that thing hurts my knee, they’re the things we focus on. To point to the outside is such a profound habit; we’ve been practicing that for countless eons, Buddha says. 

Another obstacle is that even when we consider working on our mind we believe utterly that we’re set in stone. I’m hopeless, I’m no good, I can’t change. So, whatever is prevalent in our mind we believe that’s who we are, isn’t it? 

And because we’re all samsarists, we assume that we’re this innocent victim. As soon as something goes wrong we feel it’s unfair. We assume we’re put on this planet by someone else, that things happen randomly, things are not my fault; we have no idea why things happen. We really believe we didn’t ask to get born!

So, where to start? The first step is to understand the basics of the natural law of karma. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, it’s like self-creation. We created the cause to be who we are, born where were are, to have our various experiences, and, crucially, our own mental tendencies. This is a powerful way to start owning responsibility for ourselves: we start to harness the energy of our body and speech, the servants of our mind. 

Then we start to work on the mind itself. Knowing it’s not set in stone, we develop the courage to gradually change, to lessen the neuroses and grow the goodness.

It’s as simple – and as difficult! – as that.


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