What’s the job of being a Buddhist?

Jun 17, 2021


Well, the word “buddha” tells us everything. The etymology of the word is really tasty and it tells us exactly the job to be done. It’s the end result. The end result of being a Buddhist is to be a buddha – if you are a Mahayana Buddhist.


And the Tibetan equivalent is the same: “sangye,” “buddha.” The first syllable implies the utter eradication from one’s mind, one’s consciousness, of all ego-grasping, all fear, all neuroses, all depression, anxiety, anger, jealousy, low self-esteem, you name it; all the stuff that we know is horrible. The Buddha has found, from his own direct experience – he’s not a creator, he didn’t make it up, he’s not speculating, it’s not from revelation – that all that negativity is not at the core of our being; that it’s adventitious; it’s not integral to who we are and therefore can be removed. 


Not only that. Not only can we rid the mind of all the rubbish, but as a Mahayana Buddhist we can develop to perfection all the other parts of our mind: compassion, wisdom, intelligence, kindness, love, self-confidence, generosity. This is implied by the second syllable, “dha.”


It sounds almost too simple, doesn’t it? It is certainly not the approach we take in modern psychology: there is no view that even remotely suggests that we can actually remove from our mind parts of our mind! 


Buddha, of course, studied and practiced with the previous Indian yogis and scholars. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama points out, it was these amazing Indians, more than three thousand years ago, who were the ones who began the investigation into the nature of self. We probably thought it was Freud a hundred years ago! Buddha then diverged in his own direction specifically in relation to his own findings about the nature of self. Buddha’s expertise is the mind, that’s a certainty. 


These Indians were the ones who created the brilliant psychological skill called single-pointed concentration, which is a central technique in Buddhism still. As Lama Yeshe points out in his Mahamudra: it is impossible to remove from the mind all delusions and learn to see reality without single-pointed concentration, this super-focused, subtle, capable level of consciousness that is not even posited in modern psychology.



As far as the Buddha is concerned everything – and this is not a cliché – everything comes from the mind. All universes are created by the mind over countless eons of time. Clearly this is not evident to us. If this is so and if we can rid the mind of the nonsense then we need to know clearly Buddha’s view of the mind: what it is and how it functions.


The psychological model of the mind in Buddhism divides all the thousands of states of mind that we all experience into three categories: those that are negative, neurotic, delusional and the cause of our suffering and why we harm others – which he has found that we can rid ourselves of; the positive or useful and valid states of mind that are at the core of our being and can be developed to perfection, and which are the cause of our own happiness and the ability to be of benefit to others.


This is so specific! And, indeed, it is not the way we look at the mind in modern psychology.


The third category are neither negative nor positive. I like to call them the mechanics of the mind: our ability to concentrate, to discriminate between this and that, the ability to remember what we’re doing moment by moment – many of them. And whether you’re a murderer or a meditator, you need these.


Without at least a semblance of understanding of this categorization of our states of mind, it’s impossible to do the job that Buddha says we can all do.


The other obstacle to our doing this job is that it’s not our tendency to look at the mind; instead, we’re obsessed with the outside conditions. As far as we’re concerned, they’re the cause of our suffering and the cause of our happiness. Buddha’s view is fundamentally different. What goes on in our mind is the main source of our suffering and our happiness.


So, one, with the wish to look at what’s going in our mind based on, two, an ability to label accurately the various states of mind: this is the job to be done.


And it’s the hardest job we’ll ever do. Totally opposite to our instinct!


This is the method to achieve liberation from suffering and its causes.


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