Neuroses are not at the core of our being and therefore can be removed

Jun 27, 2024

Let’s talk about the fundamental point that underpins all of Buddha’s teachings from A to Z – all of Buddha’s teachings from A to zed, as we say in England and Australia.

According to the Buddhist analysis, the neurotic states of mind, the unhappy states of mind, the painful states of mind – anger and attachment and jealousy and low self-esteem and depression and anxiety and worries and fears and all this stuff that we are so familiar with – are not at the core of our being, are not our true nature. And the conclusion from that is? They can be removed.

These words are not complicated, but it’s the most mind-boggling concept. This is the basis of entire Buddhist practice, I promise you; this is what the Buddha has found to be true. Of course, it doesn’t fit at all with neuroscience or our modern psychology – and that’s not being critical; it’s just a fact.

So, why is it so hard for us to hear it? Why is it almost absurd, laughable, a joke to think you can get rid of all these neurotic states? The simple reason is because they’re really habitual, they arise so automatically: that’s it. And it directly argues with the gut feeling we have: they feel so totally natural, as if they’re at the core of our being, that they are who we really are. Therefore it’s really hard to even understand intellectually how I can change.

And, of course, we believe the brain is the mind. Buddha doesn’t argue we’ve got a brain, but he would say the brain – my way of putting it – is simply a physical indicator of what’s in your mind. So getting rid of the neuroses sounds like you’ve got to cut half your brain out!

Getting rid of our neuroses sounds shocking also because right now we give equal status to them along with the positive, virtuous states of mind. We believe, without question, that attachment, anger and the rest are normal parts of a normal person, the implication being that you would definitely not be normal if you didn’t have them.

Now, of course everybody would love to be less angry, less neurotic, and less anxious – that’s why we go to our therapists; that’s why we have all the pills – but there’s no view that we can rid the mind utterly; there’s no experience of this in daily life; there are no people in daily life expressing this, or methodology to do it.

And we can’t hear it properly because we think it’s religion – “Ah, that’s just made-up stuff!”

Therefore, the first step in hearing what the Buddha’s saying is to really analyze carefully how we can change anger, the depression, the anxiety, the jealousy, the low self-esteem. And the way to do that is to go beneath the emotional component and listen to the conceptual stories that underpin the emotion. This is the real job, and it takes time. Then we can start arguing with the conceptual stories, gradually lessening them.

The long term, of course – ridding the mind utterly of these neurotic states – is what Buddha means by the word nirvana. This is not some place like heaven, but the mind when the nonsense has gone and all there’s left is goodness and wisdom – and bliss! This is our true nature.

Something to look forward to!

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