When I talk about mind, I’m not just talking about my mind, my trip. I’m talking about the mind of each and every universal living being.
The way we live, the way we think—everything is dedicated to material pleasure. We consider sense objects to be of utmost importance and materialistically devote ourselves to whatever makes us happy, famous or popular. Even though all this comes from our mind, we are so totally preoccupied by external objects that we never look within, we never question why we find them so interesting.
As long as we exist, our mind is an inseparable part of us. As a result, we are always up and down. It is not our body that goes up and down, it’s our mind—this mind whose way of functioning we do not understand. Therefore, sometimes we have to examine ourselves—not just our body, but our mind. After all, it is our mind that is always telling us what to do. We have to know our own psychology, or, in religious terminology, perhaps, our inner nature. Anyway, no matter what we call it, we have to know our own mind.
Don’t think that examining and knowing the nature of your mind is just an Eastern trip. That’s a wrong conception. It’s your trip. How can you separate your body, or your self-image, from your mind? It’s impossible. You think you are an independent person, free to travel the world, enjoying everything. Despite what you think, you are not free. I’m not saying that you are under the control of someone else. It’s your own uncontrolled mind, your own attachment, that oppresses you. If you discover how you oppress yourself, your uncontrolled mind will disappear. Knowing your own mind is the solution to all your problems.
One day the world looks so beautiful; the next day it looks terrible. How can you say that? Scientifically, it’s impossible that the world can change so radically. It’s your mind that causes these appearances. This is not religious dogma; your up and down is not religious dogma. I’m not talking about religion; I’m talking about the way you lead your daily life, which is what sends you up and down. Other people and your environment don’t change radically; it’s your mind. I hope you understand that.
Similarly, one person thinks that the world is beautiful and people are wonderful and kind, while another thinks that everything and everyone are horrible. Who is right? How do you explain that scientifically? It’s just their individual mind’s projection of the sense world. You think, “Today is like this, tomorrow is like that; this man is like this; that woman is like that.” But where is that absolutely fixed, forever-beautiful woman? Who is that absolutely forever-handsome man? They are non-existent—they are simply creations of your own mind.
Do not expect material objects to satisfy you or to make your life perfect; it’s impossible. How can you be satisfied by even vast amounts of material objects? How will sleeping with hundreds of different people satisfy you? It will never happen. Satisfaction comes from the mind.
If you don’t know your own psychology, you might ignore what’s going on in your mind until it breaks down and you go completely crazy. People go mad through lack of inner wisdom, through their inability to examine their own mind. They cannot explain themselves to themselves; they don’t know how to talk to themselves. Thus they are constantly preoccupied with all these external objects, while within, their mind is running down until it finally cracks. They are ignorant of their internal world, and their minds are totally unified with ignorance instead of being awake and engaged in self-analysis. Examine your own mental attitudes. Become your own therapist.
You are intelligent; you know that material objects alone cannot bring you satisfaction, but you don’t have to embark on some emotional, religious trip to examine your own mind. Some people think that they do; that this kind of self-analysis is something spiritual or religious. It’s not necessary to classify yourself as a follower of this or that religion or philosophy, to put yourself into some religious category. But if you want to be happy, you have to check the way you lead your life. Your mind is your religion.
When you check your mind, do not rationalize or push. Relax. Do not be upset when problems arise. Just be aware of them and where they come from; know their root. Introduce the problem to yourself: “Here is this kind of problem. How has it become a problem? What kind of mind has made it a problem? What kind of mind feels that it’s a problem?” When you check thoroughly, the problem will automatically disappear. That’s so simple, isn’t it? You don’t have to believe in something. Don’t believe anything! All the same, you can’t say, “I don’t believe I have a mind.” You can’t reject your mind. You can say, “I reject Eastern things”—I agree. But can you reject yourself? Can you deny your head, your nose? You cannot deny your mind. Therefore, treat yourself wisely and try to discover the true source of satisfaction.
When you were a child you loved and craved ice-cream, chocolate and cake, and thought, “When I grow up, I’ll have all the ice-cream, chocolate and cake I want; then I’ll be happy” Now you have as much ice-cream, chocolate and cake as you want, but you’re bored. You decide that since this doesn’t make you happy you’ll get a car, a house, television, a husband or wife—then you’ll be happy. Now you have everything, but your car is a problem, your house is a problem, your husband or wife is a problem, your children are a problem. You realize, “Oh, this is not satisfaction.”
What, then, is satisfaction? Go through all this mentally and check; it’s very important. Examine your life from childhood to the present. This is analytical meditation: “At that time my mind was like that; now my mind is like this. It has changed this way, that way.” Your mind has changed so many times but have you reached any conclusion as to what really makes you happy? My interpretation is that you are lost. You know your way around the city, how to get home, where to buy chocolate, but still you are lost—you can’t find your goal. Check honestly—isn’t this so?
Lord Buddha says that all you have to know is what you are, how you exist. You don’t have to believe in anything. Just understand your mind: how it works, how attachment and desire arise, how ignorance arises, and where emotions come from. It is sufficient to know the nature of all that; that alone can bring you happiness and peace. Thus, your life can change completely; everything turns upside down. What you once interpreted as horrible can become beautiful.
If I told you that all you were living for was chocolate and ice-cream, you’d think I was crazy. “No! no!” your arrogant mind would say. But look deeper into your life’s purpose. Why are you here? To be well liked? To become famous? To accumulate possessions? To be attractive to others? I’m not exaggerating—check for yourself, then you’ll see. Through thorough examination you can realize that dedicating your entire life to seeking happiness through chocolate and ice-cream completely nullifies the significance of your having been born human. Birds and dogs have similar aims. Shouldn’t your goals in life be higher than those of dogs and chickens?
I’m not trying to decide your life for you, but you check up. It’s better to have an integrated life than to live in mental disorder. An disorderly life is not worthwhile, beneficial to neither yourself nor others. What are you living for—chocolate? Steak? Perhaps you think, “Of course I don’t live for food. I’m an educated person.” But education also comes from the mind. Without the mind, what is education, what is philosophy? Philosophy is just the creation of someone’s mind, a few thoughts strung together in a certain way. Without the mind there’s no philosophy, no doctrine, no university subjects. All these things are mind-made.
How do you check your mind? Just watch how it perceives or interprets any object that it encounters. Observe what feelings—comfortable or uncomfortable—arise. Then check, “When I perceive this kind of view, this feeling arises, that emotion comes; I discriminate in such a way. Why?” This is how to check your mind; that’s all. It’s very simple.
When you check your own mind properly, you stop blaming others for your problems. You recognize that your mistaken actions come from your own defiled, deluded mind. When you are preoccupied with external, material objects, you blame them and other people for your problems. Projecting that deluded view onto external phenomena makes you miserable. When you begin to realize your wrong-conception view, you begin to realize the nature of your own mind and to put an end to your problems forever.
Is all this very new for you? It’s not. Whenever you are going to do anything, you first check it out and then make your decision. You already do this; I’m not suggesting anything new. The difference is that you don’t do it enough. You have to do more checking. This doesn’t mean sitting alone in some corner contemplating your navel—you can be checking your mind all the time, even while talking or working with other people. Do you think that examining the mind is only for those who are on an Eastern trip? Don’t think that way.
Realize that the nature of your mind is different from that of the flesh and bone of your physical body. Your mind is like a mirror, reflecting everything without discrimination. If you have understanding-wisdom, you can control the kind of reflection that you allow into the mirror of your mind. If you totally ignore what is happening in your mind, it will reflect whatever garbage it encounters—things that make you psychologically sick. Your checking-wisdom should distinguish between reflections that are beneficial and those that bring psychological problems. Eventually, when you realize the true nature of subject and object, all your problems will vanish.
Some people think they are religious, but what is religious? If you do not examine your own nature, do not gain knowledge-wisdom, how are you religious? Just the idea that you are religious—”I am Buddhist, Jewish, whatever”—does not help at all. It does not help you; it does not help others. In order to really help others, you need to gain knowledge-wisdom.
The greatest problems of humanity are psychological, not material. From birth to death, people are continuously under the control of their mental sufferings. Some people never keep watch on their minds when things are going well, but when something goes wrong—an accident or some other terrible experience—they immediately say, “God, please help me.” They call themselves religious but it’s a joke. In happiness or sorrow, a serious practitioner maintains constant awareness of God and one’s own nature. You’re not being realistic or even remotely religious if, when you are having a good time, surrounded by chocolate and preoccupied by worldly sense pleasures, you forget yourself, and turn to God only when something awful happens.
No matter which of the many world religions we consider, their interpretation of God or Buddha and so forth is simply words and mind; these two alone. Therefore, words don’t matter so much. What you have to realize is that everything—good and bad, every philosophy and doctrine—comes from mind. The mind is very powerful. Therefore, it requires firm guidance. A powerful jet plane needs a good pilot; the pilot of your mind should be the wisdom that understands its nature. In that way, you can direct your powerful mental energy to benefit your life instead of letting it run about uncontrollably like a mad elephant, destroying yourself and others.
I don’t need to say much more. I think you understand what I’m talking about. At this point a little dialog would be more useful. Ask questions; I’ll try to answer. Remember that you don’t have to agree with what I say. You have to understand my attitude, my mind. If you don’t like what I’ve been saying, please contradict me. I like people to argue with me. I’m not a dictator: “You people should do this; you people should do that.” I can’t tell you what to do. I make suggestions; what I want is for you to check up. If you do that, I’ll be satisfied. So tell me if you disagree with what I’ve said.
Q: How do you check up on your own mind? How do you do it?
Lama: A simple way of checking up on your own mind is to investigate how you perceive things, how you interpret your experiences. Why do you have so many different feelings about your boyfriend even during the course of one day? In the morning you feel good about him, in the afternoon, kind of foggy; why is that? Has your boyfriend changed that radically from morning to afternoon? No, there’s been no radical change, so why do you feel so differently about him? That’s the way to check.
Q: If you can’t trust your mind to make a decision, can you leave it to something outside? Like telling yourself, “If such and such happens, I’ll go here; if something else happens, I’ll go there.”
Lama: Before you do anything, you should ask yourself why you are doing it, what is your purpose; what course of action you are embarking on. If the path ahead seems troublesome, perhaps you shouldn’t take it; if it looks worthwhile, you can probably proceed. First, check up. Don’t act without knowing what’s in store for you.
Q: What’s a lama?
Lama: Good question. From the Tibetan point of view, a lama is someone who is extremely well educated in the internal world and knows not only the present mind but also the past and the future. Psychologically speaking, a lama can see where he has come from and where he’s going. He also has the power to control himself and the ability to offer psychological advice to others. Tibetans would consider anyone like that to be a lama.
Q: What would be the equivalent of a lama in the West?
Lama: I don’t know that we have the exact equivalent here. It could be some kind of combination of priest, psychologist and doctor. But as I just said, a lama has realized the true nature of his own and others’ minds and can offer perfect solutions to others’ mental problems. I’m not criticizing them, but I doubt that many Western psychologists have the same degree of understanding of the mind or the emotional problems that people experience. Sometimes they offer somewhat poor quality, superficial explanations for the problems people are going through, such as, “When you were a child your mother did this, your father did that...” I disagree; it’s not true. You can’t blame your parents for your problems like that. Of course, environmental factors can contribute to difficulties, but the principal cause is always within you; the basic problem is never outside. I don’t know, but perhaps Western doctors are too afraid to interpret things in this way. Also, I have met many priests, some of whom are my friends, but they tend not to deal too much with the here and now. Instead of focusing on practical ways of coping with everyday uncertainties, they emphasize religious considerations such as God, faith and so forth. But people today tend to be skeptical and often reject the help that some priests can offer.
Q: How does meditation help you make decisions?
Lama: Meditation works because it is not a method that requires you to believe in something but rather one that you can put into action for yourself. You check, or watch, your own mind. If someone’s giving you a hard time and your ego starts to hurt, instead of reacting, just take a look at what’s going on. Think of how sound is simply coming out of the other person’s mouth, entering your ear, and causing pain in your heart. If you think about this in the right way, it will make you laugh; you will see how ridiculous it is to get upset by something so insubstantial. Then your problem will disappear—poof! Just like that. By practicing in this way, you will discover through your own experience how meditation helps and how it offers satisfactory solutions to all your problems. Meditation is not words, it’s wisdom.
Q: Lama, could you please talk a little about karma.
Lama: Sure: you are karma. It’s that simple. Actually, karma is a Sanskrit word that, roughly translated, means cause and effect. What does that mean? Yesterday something happened in your mind; today you experience the effect. Or, your environment: you have certain parents, you live in a certain situation, all that has an effect on you. As you go through life, every day, everything you do, all the time, within your mind there’s a constant chain of cause and reaction, cause and reaction; that’s karma. As long as you’re in your body, interacting with the sense world, discriminating this is good, that is bad, your mind is automatically creating karma, cause and effect. Karma is not just theoretical philosophy, it’s science, Buddhist science. Karma explains how life evolves; form and feeling, color and sensation, discrimination; your entire life, what you are, where you come from, how you keep going, your relationship with your mind. Karma is Buddhism’s scientific explanation of evolution. So, even though karma is a Sanskrit word, actually, you are karma, your whole life is controlled by karma, you live within the energy field of karma. Your energy interacts with another energy, then another, and another, and that’s how your entire life unfolds. Physically, mentally, it’s all karma. Therefore, karma isn’t something you have to believe in. Because of the characteristic nature of your mind and body, you are constantly circling through the six realms of cyclic existence, whether you believe in karma or not. In the physical universe, when everything comes together—earth, sea, the four elements, heat and so forth—effects automatically result; there’s no need for belief to know this happens. It’s the same thing in your internal universe, especially when you’re in contact with the sense world; you’re constantly reacting. For example, last year you enjoyed delicious chocolate with much attachment but haven’t had any since, so you miss it badly, “Oh, I’d really love some chocolate.” You remember your previous experience of chocolate; that memory causes you to crave and grasp for more. That reaction to your previous experience is karma; the experience is the cause, the missing is the result. It’s actually quite simple.
Q: What is your purpose in life?
Lama: You’re asking me about my purpose in life? That’s something for me to check for myself, but if I had to reply, I’d say my purpose is to dedicate myself as much as I possibly can to the welfare of others, while trying to be of benefit to myself as well. I can’t say that I’m succeeding in any of this, but those are my aims.
Q: Is the mind different from the soul? When you speak of solving the problems of the mind, do you mean that the mind is the problem and not the soul?
Lama: Philosophically, the soul can be interpreted in a number of ways. In Christianity and Hinduism, the soul is different from the mind and is considered to be something permanent and self-existent. In my opinion, there’s no such thing. In Buddhist terminology, the soul, mind or whatever you call it is ever-changing, impermanent. I don’t really make a distinction between mind and soul, but within yourself you can’t find anything that’s permanent or self-existent. With respect to mental problems, don’t think that the mind is totally negative; it’s the uncontrolled mind that causes problems. If you develop the right kind of wisdom and thereby recognize the nature of the uncontrolled mind, it will automatically disappear. But until you do, the uncontrolled mind will completely dominate you.
Q: I’ve heard many times that many Westerners can grasp the philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism intellectually but have difficulty in putting it into practice. It makes sense to them but they can’t integrate it with their lives. What do you think the block is?
Lama: That’s a great question, thank you. Tibetan Buddhism teaches you to overcome your dissatisfied mind, but to do that you have to make an effort. To put our techniques into your own experience, you have to go slowly, gradually. You can’t just jump right in the deep end. It takes time and we expect you to have trouble at first. But if you take it easy it gets less and less difficult as time goes by.
Q: What is our mind’s true nature and how do we go about recognizing it?
Lama: There are two aspects to our mind’s nature, the relative and the absolute. The relative is the mind that perceives and functions in the sense world. We also call that mind dualistic and because of what I describe as its “that-this” perception, it is totally agitated in nature. However, by transcending the dualistic mind, you can unify your view. At that time you realize the absolute true nature of the mind, which is totally beyond the duality. In dealing with the sense world in our normal, everyday, mundane life, two things always appear. The appearance of two things always creates a problem. It’s like children—one alone is OK, two together always make trouble. Similarly, as our five senses interpret the world and supply dualistic information to our mind, our mind grasps at that view, and that automatically causes conflict and agitation. This is the complete opposite of the experience of inner peace and freedom. Therefore, by reaching beyond that you will experience perfect peace. Now, this is just a short reply to what you asked and perhaps it’s unsatisfactory, because it’s a big question. What I’ve said is merely a simple introduction to a profound topic. However, if you have some background in this subject, my answer might satisfy you.
Q: When you check your mind, does it always tell you the truth?
Lama: No, not necessarily. Sometimes your wrong conceptions answer. You shouldn’t listen to them. Instead, you have to tell yourself, I’m not satisfied with what that mind says; I want a better answer. You have to keep checking more and more deeply until your wisdom responds. But it’s good to question; if you don’t ask questions, you’ll never get any answers. But you shouldn’t ask emotionally, Oh, what’s that, what’s that, what’s that? I have to find out; I have to know. If you have a question, write it down; think about it carefully. Gradually the right answer will come. It takes time. If you don’t get an answer today, stick the question on your fridge. If you question strongly, answers will come, sometimes even in dreams. Why will you get answers? Because your basic nature is wisdom. Don’t think that you’re hopelessly ignorant. Human nature has both positive and negative aspects.
Q: What is your definition of a guru?
Lama: A guru is a person who can really show you the true nature of your mind and who knows the perfect remedies for your psychological problems. Someone who doesn’t know his own mind can never know others’ minds and therefore cannot be a guru. Such a person can never solve other people’s problems. You have to be extremely careful before taking someone on as a guru; there are many impostors around. Westerners are sometimes too trusting. Someone comes along, I’m a lama, I’m a yogi; I can give you knowledge, and earnest young Westerners think, I’m sure he can teach me something. I’m going to follow him. This can really get you into trouble. I’ve heard of many cases of people being taken in by charlatans. Westerners tend to believe too easily. Eastern people are much more skeptical. Take your time; relax; check up.
Q: Does humility always accompany wisdom?
Lama: Yes. It’s good to be as humble as possible. If you can act with both humility and wisdom all the time, your life will be wonderful. You will respect everybody.
Q: Are there exceptions to that rule? I’ve seen posters for one spiritual leader where it says, I, at whose feet all people bow. Could someone who makes a statement like that be wise?
Lama: Well, it’s hard to say, just like that. The point is to be as careful as you can. Our minds are funny. Sometimes we are skeptical of things that are really worthwhile and completely accepting of things that we should avoid. Try to avoid extremes and follow the middle way, checking with wisdom wherever you go. That’s the most important thing.
Q: Why is there this difference between Easterners and Westerners that you mentioned?
Lama: The differences may not be all that great. Westerners might be slightly more complicated intellectually, but basic-ally human beings are all the same; most of the time we all want to enjoy and are preoccupied by pleasures of the senses. It’s at the intellectual level that our characters may differ. The differences in relation to following gurus are probably due to Asian people having had more experience in this.
Q: Is it more difficult to achieve the wisdom in the West than in the East because in the West we are surrounded by too many distractions, our minds talk too much about the past, the future, and we seem to be under so much pressure? Do we have to close ourselves off completely or what?
Lama: I cannot say that gaining knowledge wisdom in the West is more difficult than in the East. Actually, gaining wisdom, understanding your own nature, is an individual thing. You can’t say it’s easier in the East than in the West. Nor can you say that to develop knowledge-wisdom you have to renounce the Western material life. You don’t have to give it all up. Instead of radically abandoning everything, try to develop the outlook, I need these things, but I can’t say they’re all I need. The problem comes when grasping and attachment dominate your mind and you put all your faith in other people and material possessions. External objects aren’t the problem; the problem is the grasping mind that tells you, I can’t live without this. You can lead a life of incredible luxury but at the same time be completely detached from your possessions. The pleasure you derive from them is much greater if you enjoy them without attachment. If you can manage that, your life will be perfect. As Westerners you have the advantage of getting all these things without too much effort. In the East we really have to struggle to achieve some material comfort. As a result, there’s a tendency to cling much more strongly to our possessions, which only results in more suffering. Either way, the problem is always attachment. Try simultaneously to be free of attachment while having it all.
I hope I have answered your questions. Thank you all so much.
Melbourne University, Melbourne, Australia 25 March 1975