We can mold our mind into any shape we like

Jun 9, 2022


As Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, we can mold our mind into any shape we like. In our modern world we know we can do that: we can mold our mind into the mind of musician, a mathematician, a carpenter: we have all the techniques at our fingertips, and we see examples of the efficacy of them every day. It’s not surprising to us.


But when it come to our emotions, no way do we think we have much control over our mind at all! But this is exactly Buddha’s point. Bare minimum, he shows that we are capable of molding our mind into the mind of a fulfilled, self-respectful, content, intelligent, compassionate person – forget nirvana and the rest!


The approach is the same: you decide on the kind of person you want to become, look for those who’ve already achieved it, and learn the techniques from them. Not complicated!


But what prevents us from seeing it like this? Theoretically the idea that we can do this is simple, but it’s probably the hardest job we’ll ever actually do. And that’s because we have a whole series of misconceptions deep in the bones of our being that blind us from seeing the truth of this approach.


First, we are utterly convinced that the causes of our becoming a happy, wise person are outside us, not in the mind at all. We spend our lives trying to mold the outside world into the shape we want! From the second we wake up until the second we go to sleep our mind is totally focused out there. The role our mind seems to play is to merely respond, as if we have no control at all. We believe this!


Shockingly, as Rinpoche points out, the vast majority of all human beings on this planet have no idea that what goes on in their mind plays any role at all in their lives. This seems hard to believe, but if we observe the world – observe ourself! – we’ll see it’s true.


So to become the person we want to become we need to totally reverse that process. We need to start to pay attention to our mind, the countless thoughts and feelings, which at the moment are a big soup of emotion; it’s hard to tell one bit from another. 


But not just that. That attention needs to be imbued with intelligence. 


Buddha’s model of the mind is very precise, very clear. All our thousands of thoughts and feelings and emotions can be divided into three categories: those that are positive, useful, in touch with reality, and the source of our happiness and wellbeing and our ability to be of use to others; those that are the exact opposite: not in touch with reality, neurotic, painful, and the source of our suffering and why we harm others; and the third lot, which I like to call the mechanics of our mind, such as concentration, attention, discrimination, etc.


It’s the latter lot that enable us to do the key job of distinguishing between the neurotic and the positive ones, which is the main job of being a Buddhist.


Second, even when we do start to pay attention to what’s going on in our mind and begin to unpack and unravel all the stories, the negative stories in our head distort what’s going on. As Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, the world out there appears back to us in the aspect of whatever’s going on in our mind: the anger, the depression, the anxiety. She did this, he said this, I am this, you are that. 


Third, again as Rinpoche says, bad enough that things appear us wrongly to us, distorted; the worst thing is we believe these stories are true. That’s the killer! That’s what keeps us in samsara.


In fact, for so many lifetimes have we been seeing things wrongly that everything actually appears wrongly. It’s like for so long you’ve been convinced that your fifty-dollar note is worth $500 such that it appears to you like that.


So, changing our mind is the actual job of being a Buddhist, but because we’re so addicted to wrong views, we need to do masses of practices that are referred to as purification and merit-creating before we can do the actual job.


It’s a bit like you go to Roger Federer and ask him to please show you how to play tennis. With one look he can see that no way are you ready – overweight, no muscle tone, no energy, no understanding of even what a tennis racquet is – so he sends you off for a year, let’s say, to lose weight, study nutrition, do lots of physical training, go to tennis school to learn the basics, etc., etc. – in other words, he wants you to prime your mind and your body to even begin to train seriously with him.


Well, the “playing tennis” here is working on your mind. We’re nowhere near ready to do that job properly, so we need to do lots of other practices to prime our mind to even begin the job seriously.


It’s all doable, of course. But we need masses of confidence, good teachers, discipline, daily practice, and slowly slowly we’ll start to taste the benefits.

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