Transforming the Mind in Everyday Life

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Adelaide, Australia (Archive #854)

A talk on the purpose of our life and how to develop a positive attitude, given by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Adelaide, Australia, on August 2, 1991. This teaching includes advice on searching for the I.

First edit by Ven. Ailsa Cameron; second edit by Sandra Smith.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Chenrezig Institute, Australia, 1991. Photo: Thubten Yeshe.

I'm happy to meet all of you again. The subject is introduction to tantra, right? Well, I don't know anything about tantra, so I don't know what to introduce. Maybe I'll introduce something else, a non-existent phenomenon.

Everybody wants happiness and does not want problems or suffering. I think that if you want to be happy, it's very important to know how to enjoy life. If you know how to enjoy life, whether you are a prime minister or a porter, a millionaire or a beggar, you will find happiness in every situation. If you know how to live your life and you understand the methods to apply, you can make your life happy.  

Your mind, or mental continuum, has all the potential to apply methods that can make your life really happy, peaceful, and satisfying, but this depends on your actions in everyday life. Whether you are a prime minister or a porter, a millionaire or a beggar, whether you live alone or live in a city with many people, whatever the situation, if you know how to live life, there's always a way to make your life happy and to find satisfaction and peace.

It all depends on your daily activitieson what you do and how you think. The main thing is your attitude in life. Everything depends on your own mind. If you create one concept, you will find problems in your life. With another concept, the correct way of thinking, there will be no problems in your life; the problems won't exist. You won't find any problems in your life. So, everything depends on your own mind. Problems come from your own mind and happiness also has to come from your own mind. It is not that problems come from your mind and happiness comes from outside. Both come from your own mind.

There are people who are very smart, well-educated and professional, who have studied how to run a business at university, but they cannot find a job or even if they have work, they are not successful and are always experiencing problems. And there are other people who don't have any education but have an easy life, with everything happening according to their wishes. They are successful and find whatever they are looking for, wealth or whatever. There is a reason why the first group are having failures in their lives; why other people don't employ them or help them. There is a reason why these people experience difficulties. It looks as if the difficulties come from outside, but it's not like that. When we are not aware of the reason and do not analyze deeply, it looks as if the problems come from outside, but actually the problems come from their own mind.

There is a reason why, even though some people are educated and so forth, they are not succeeding in business, or an employer helps other people but doesn’t help these people. There is a reason for this, and this reason is the cause of their problems. The reason why they meet undesirable objects and experience loss in their life is created before experiencing the result. The reason or the cause is in their mind.

Having a positive attitude, such as the altruistic thought to help other sentient beings and not harm them, is the cause of success in life. Even though some people might not have much education, they have no difficulties in life; they are wealthy and have harmonious relationships, and whatever they wish for happens. The reason for this is the cause created in the past. This is the actual evolution; this is where their happiness comes from. But when we do not analyze, when we are not aware, it looks as if success came from outside and does not depend on their mind.

It’s the opposite for people who are experiencing difficulties in their life. Their actions are motivated by ill will, jealousy, selfishness, dissatisfaction, desire, ignorance, anger and so forth, and their problems and difficulties result from that. Even though this is the actual evolution, when we do not understand or are not aware of karma, of action and result, it appears as if success and difficulties come from outside. We may have heard of karma and sometimes talk about it or meditate on it, but we are not aware of it in our everyday life.

Happiness and success in life depends on transforming the mind, on making the mind better. Through that our actions become better; it depends on developing a positive attitude. Our mental continuum has all the potential to be completely transformed into the right path; we can completely purify all the negative imprints left on our mental continuum by our negative actions, which produce the problems in our life. Transforming our mind makes it impossible to experience the action and the resultant problems. Our mental continuum has all this potential.

Therefore, meditation is extremely important in our life. It is the most important method for obtaining happiness in our everyday life. If we think more broadly, meditation brings not only temporary happiness but especially ultimate happiness, the peerless happiness of full enlightenment—when this mental continuum is completely pure, free of every single mistake, even the subtle imprints, the obscurations, and has completed all the qualities, all the realizations. Then we are able to bring everyone else to the peerless happiness of full enlightenment by freeing them from all their problems and obscurations, from their disturbing thoughts and even the imprints left on the mind. We have a fully knowing mind, having completed training the mind in compassion and having the perfect power to guide everyone according to the level of their mind.

Just knowing intellectually where suffering comes from and where happiness comes from is not enough. In our everyday life we need to practice what removes suffering and what creates the cause of happiness. This practice itself is meditation. Training our mind in the right path, transforming our mind into the right way of thinking that leads to happiness—temporary happiness and the highest happiness of full enlightenment—is meditation.

Meditation is necessary for anyone who does not want suffering. It becomes of the utmost need in life. When we are sick, we go to a hospital to see a doctor and take medicine. Meditation practice is much more important than finding a cure for diseases like AIDS or cancer, which are just one problem of life. There are thousands of problems in life, in samsara. Disease is just one problem, and AIDS or cancer is just one disease from among the 424 diseases. So even if there is a medicine to cure this one disease, it is nothing compared to the value of having a positive attitude and doing positive actions in our everyday life, which means Dharma practice, meditation practice. Meditation practice develops the mind; it completely purifies the mind of all problems and their causes and makes it impossible to experience them again. It makes it possible to achieve everlasting, ultimate happiness.

Finding a medicine that completely cures AIDS or cancer is regarded as unbelievably important even by people who don't have the disease. It is seen as extremely necessary and precious. But it is nothing compared to the value of meditation practice, or compared to the value of generating each positive thought and transforming our mind in everyday life.

There is no match between the value of practicing patience and not getting angry even once in your life and the value of such a medicine, even if it definitely cures disease. If you don't practice patience, first of all, there is no peace within your own mind when you are angry. Then, your anger makes you harm other sentient beings, who should not be objects that are harmed by you, but only objects that you help. Helping others is the purpose of your life. Anger makes you harm others with your body, with your speech and with your mind. Whether you get angry and harm only one other being or many, you cause them to generate anger and they also create negative actions, the cause of suffering, with their body, speech and mind. That can cause a lot of harm and disturbance to you; as a result you can receive a lot of harm.

When your mind is in a state of anger, it's very dangerous. It takes a minute to kill another person, whether it's a family member, a friend or a stranger. When your mind is occupied by anger, overwhelmed by anger, there's not much space in your mind; you cannot think much. You have only the thought to hurt, to destroy the other person, and it takes just a minute to kill that person. It also takes just a minute to endanger your own life.

The family and friends of the person you harm are also upset with you, so you create a lot of enemies. Like this, there's no peace in your life or in the lives of others. This is without talking about the results caused by the negative thought of anger, the karma that you experience in the life after this. Here we are talking only about this life, not about the long-term problems in many lifetimes. Getting angry once results in problems experienced for so many lifetimes because of the imprint left by the karma. Unless you meet the right path and purify the negative karma, you will repeat it over and over. If you get angry today, that anger leaves an imprint on the mind, which causes anger to arise again. It is the same with the other disturbing thoughts. Even in the future when you are born as a human being again, you experience these problems again and again and again, until you meet the right path, the right methods, and purify this particular karma, the negative energy or imprint on our mind. Here we are just talking about that one particular negative karma created out of anger.

Getting angry once harms so many lifetimes; it goes on and on. Therefore, even practicing patience once in your life stops unbelievable problems now and the many hundreds of thousands of problems you would have to experience again and again in many, many lifetimes, or that you would create as anger again arose from that imprint, that action. Since you do not experience all these problems, that is peace.

Also in this life you don't cause problems in the minds of others; you don't cause them to rise anger and let them create harmful actions to you and to others. Therefore, there's great peace in your life and in the lives of others, and no danger to your life. Practicing patience itself becomes the best method to prolong life, the best medicine. Anger causes shortness of life; it immediately brings your life into danger. Even regarding your own happiness, you experience incredible happiness in so many lifetimes as a result of that good action, that positive attitude.

So, I think I've lost the point of why I'm talking about this. It suddenly disappeared! That's right. I was comparing medicine with generating a positive attitude once. Even if such a medicine existed, I was comparing the value of that with the value of practicing patience once in thirty or forty years of life.

Even if there is a medicine that can completely cure disease, what if you don't change your mind but still follow anger, the dissatisfied mind of desire, ignorance, and all the other unhappy, disturbing thoughts? If you do not change your own attitude from these harmful thoughts that harm you and other sentient beings directly or indirectly and you do not change your actions, you continuously create the cause of cancer, AIDS, and so forth.

In Canada there is one business woman, a fashion consultant who earned $1,000 an hour...[and who had cancer]...I gave her an idea of what mantras to recite and told her to liberate many animals—to buy and free those in danger of being killed in restaurants or slaughterhouses. She liberated a lot of these animals, more than I suggested to her. She bought many chickens, fish, and worms; she liberated many worms in the ground around her house. After she completely recovered from her cancer, she still liberated animals quite often, freeing them from the danger of being killed and causing them to have a long life.

So, she completely recovered. I think at the beginning she was in hospital. When she got my suggestions, she was asked by the doctor to stay in hospital. The doctor said, "If you believe in this, then do whatever you want, but otherwise I would suggest that you stay in hospital." So she went to do these things and she also recited the mantras of some particular aspects of the Buddha. She completely recovered from her cancer. Later she came to Nepal to thank me for giving back her life.

I was curious about what would happen and kept checking whether the cancer had come back or not. For several years it didn't come back, then one or two years ago it started again. She immediately set her life up in the correct way. She told me that during that time her life had become undisciplined or immoral, I guess. Her life got out of control, so then the cancer started to come back. So again she set up her life and did the things she had done before. Soon afterwards she went to hospital to have x-rays and other tests and the doctor could not find the cancer. It was completely gone.

The reason I'm bringing up this story is that even disease depends on our own actions and attitudes; disease comes from our own negative actions and negative attitudes. The basic thing is that by changing her attitudes and actions, by setting up her life correctly, she again cured her cancer.

Even disease depends on our everyday actions and attitudes. With the dissatisfied mind of desire, anger, and the other harmful thoughts, we create the actions that bring the results of problems such as disease. One proof of this is that patients can see this from their own experience. If they check their attitudes and their actions when these diseases are happening, they can see how their disease is related to their undisciplined uncontrolled life, and to their harmful actions and attitudes. Also, when they set up their life properly, with a positive attitude and positive actions, the disease goes away.

Transforming our attitudes and actions into the positive is Dharma practice, is meditation. Curing diseases completely or stopping the experience of them is just one benefit of having a positive attitude and doing positive actions.

Positive attitudes and actions in our everyday life can also stop the experience of relationship problems and bring harmony into our life and so much success in our work or business. With positive attitudes and actions, if we want a good reputation, we get one; if we want power, we can get it. All the happiness we are looking for and all the happiness we wish to cause other sentient beings we can obtain from a positive attitude, the good heart, and positive actions in our daily life.

A positive attitude in our everyday life is the best medicine for a long life. It's the best way to rest and the best way to be healthy. You can understand this from the example I mentioned before of the Canadian woman with cancer. It is the same with people who have AIDS. When I ask them about their state of mind when they get AIDS, they explain how their mental state is one of unbelievable desire and the actions that follow are related to that extreme dissatisfaction.

A positive attitude, the good heart, in our everyday life is the best way to be healthy, and if we wish to be wealthy, it's the unmistaken way to create wealth, to prevent financial problems and poverty. It all comes from our own mind, and since everything comes from our mind, we always have the opportunity to obtain whatever happiness we wish for. It's just a question of understanding the right psychological method, the proper way to think in our everyday life. We have to know how to think in the most profitable way, in the way that brings the highest happiness. With the right attitude, right actions follow and our life then becomes most meaningful. In this way our own mind and actions do not become obstacles to our life or create the cause of problems.

The purpose of our life is to pacify the sufferings of every sentient being, starting from the person we live with, work with, eat with, and to bring everyone happiness. That is the purpose of our life, that’s why we have this precious human rebirth. In order to protect this life, to be healthy and to have a long life, we need a house, food, clothing and education. We spend so much just surviving. Just think of one example, a house. We spend so much money just to have a place to live to protect our life. A house costs so much money, not to mention food, clothing, and everything else.

So, what is the purpose of trying to survive each day? The whole purpose is not just to obtain happiness for yourself, or even the day-to-day happiness and comfort of this life. It is not for that. If you think that is the purpose of life, there will be no happiness in your heart, no enjoyment or real peace of mind. Even though there may be external excitement, there will be no real peace in your heart. If you think the purpose of life is only to find day-to-day comfort for yourself, this selfish attitude itself is a painful mind. The nature of this mind is painful, so you won't feel any rest in your heart.

Even when you are not working and your body is lying down at the beach, your mind will not be resting; your mind will have no peace. Why is there no rest? Because there is no happiness or peace in your heart. Even when you aren't working, you won't really be resting. With this idea of the meaning of life, there's no real joy in the heart and besides that, if you point to something external as the cause of happiness, you can never find satisfaction in life.

What is the real purpose of life? Why do we spend so much money taking care of ourselves, just one person, when millions of people on this earth are dying of starvation? The purpose of surviving each day is to pacify everyone's suffering and to bring them happiness. For that reason we should try to stay healthy and to have a long life. For that reason we should gain an education, learn about Dharma, meditate, work, and everything else. For that reason we should do all these things from morning until night.

First of all we should know what the purpose of our life is. The very fundamental thing is our attitude in everyday life. Whether we are doing retreat or working, whatever our situation, our attitude should be this. With this attitude we can find happiness. Whether we do retreat or don't do retreat, whether we are wealthy or poor, whether we are healthy or sick, with this attitude, we can find happiness and peace. With this attitude we can find satisfaction. Whether young or old, we can find happiness; whether living or dying, we can find happiness.

Since we have a mind that sees others are suffering and in need of help, we have the opportunity to help them. There are many things that we can't help them with right now because our mind has not developed the necessary wisdom and power to guide others, but we have the potential to develop the wisdom, compassion and power. We have all the potential. Just knowing that others are suffering becomes the reason why we are responsible for helping others, for freeing them from suffering and bringing them happiness. For example, if there's a blind person in danger of falling over a cliff. Nearby there's someone who is not blind, who has eyes to see that the blind person is in danger of falling down, who has the arms to grab and hold them, who has the voice to explain to them what is happening. This person has every opportunity to protect that blind person from falling off the cliff. Even though the blind person doesn't ask them for help, just because the other person has the opportunity to help, just because of this reason, they are responsible for helping the blind person who is in danger of falling down the cliff. Simply by seeing that the blind person is in danger of falling and by having the opportunity to help, that person has the responsibility to help, to save the blind person from the danger of falling down. And because they don't experience that problem, the blind person has happiness.

Having a mind that is able to see the suffering of others and knowing that we have the opportunity to help becomes the reason that we are responsible for pacifying the sufferings of other sentient beings and for bringing them happiness.

Western culture is not the only culture that has the means to become more qualified to guide others, to pacify their sufferings and bring them happiness. I'm saying that you shouldn't have a closed mind and only think of Western culture. In terms of the methods to develop yourself so that you can be more qualified to guide others in a deeper, more extensive way, you shouldn't think only of Western culture. If something is taught in Western culture, you accept it and learn it, and if something doesn't exist in Western culture, if it's not taught in universities by Western psychologists, you think it has no value. If it doesn't exist there, then you think it doesn't exist anywhere.

You shouldn't believe that no better solutions to life problems exist than those in Western culture or that there aren't any different methods. The more various methods you know and are qualified to show, the better you can help others. There are many different people with different characters and levels of mind, so you have to know suitable methods that fit their minds. It is extremely important to open your mind and learn from other cultures. You have to learn to experiment and you have to study in order to expand your own wisdom about the means to develop yourself and to help others.

It is crucial not to get caught up in one way of thinking. For example, thinking that if something comes from the East that it's not worth experimenting with or even thinking about. You shouldn't think that it's not worth checking or studying other Eastern methods. To reject learning about these methods will only harm the development of your own wisdom, so your wisdom and skills will be very limited. Then you cannot offer real benefit to other sentient beings.

By keeping an open mind and studying the methods taught by other cultures, you have more wisdom to discriminate what is right and wrong. In this way, with your own wisdom understanding what is right and wrong, you can then guide yourself, and you aren't misled by others. In this way you can fulfill the wishes of other sentient beings.

As mentioned in Lama Chöpa (v. 88), 

Having abandoned the mind that views this unbearable prison
Of cyclic existence as a pleasure grove, I seek your blessings
To hold the three trainings as the treasure of the superior’s wealth
And, thereby, to uphold liberation’s banner.

Searching for the I

I is merely imputed by the mind. However, when we do not analyze, it looks as if there is an I on these aggregates, on this association of body and mind. In other words, it looks as if there is a real I, a real self inside the body, but we do not feel that this I is in the head, the arms or legs, the fingers or toes, or even in the stomach. Ordinary people see the I as being somewhere in the chest, above the stomach but below the neck. 

When we express happiness, we touch our chest and say, "Oh, I'm so happy!" We don't point to our head or our toes and say, "Oh, I'm so happy." We don't point to our stomach when we're happy. Also, when someone calls us, we point to our chest and ask, "Are you calling me?" We don't point to our nose! And when someone asks us to do a very complicated job, or a very lowly one, we point here to our chest and ask, "Are you telling me to do this?"

Even the hand gestures we use have reasons behind them. Our gestures express something. There is a reason why our hand goes to our chest when somebody calls our name. When we do not analyze, it looks as if there is a real I somewhere there inside our chest. But we should immediately analyze exactly where it is in our chest. 

Imagine that a light is switched on inside our chest and we can see everything clearly: the ribs and the other bones, the heart, the blood vessels, the muscles, and so forth. Usually the inside of our chest is dark, and inside that darkness is the I. The I seems to be oneness with the darkness. Even when we  think that our chest is full of light, immediately the real I that we used to feel was there before, is not there. 

When we search for it, we cannot find that real I, even in the chest, where we normally feel that it is. So, if the real I exists, as soon as we start to analyze, its existence should become clearer, just as a tower that we see on a mountain becomes clearer as we come nearer to it. However, as we start to analyze the I, it immediately becomes unclear, and the more we analyze it, the more unclear it gets. So, this is proof that it doesn't exist. 

We feel that there's an I somewhere inside our body, in a particular location such as in the chest or the head, or we might even believe that it exists above the aggregates, the association of body and mind. However, these are what are called the objects to be refuted. The I that we believe is in a particular location in the body or above the aggregates does not exist at all. It is completely empty. 

If we search from the top of our head down to our toes, we cannot find the I anywhere. What appears to exist when we do not analyze cannot be found anywhere when we do analyze. This proves that it is a complete hallucination. That I that we believe exists in a particular location in the body or above the aggregates is a complete hallucination. It cannot be found. That is the reality. 

The I that exists—the I that experiences happiness and suffering, that works, meditates, practices Dharma, wants happiness and does not want suffering—is nothing other than what is merely imputed by the mind. This is all that the I is. The mind merely imputes that the I exists and believes in that existence for the simple reason that the aggregates exist. 

Even though this is the reality, it doesn't appear to us in this way. What appears to us is completely contradictory to reality. The reality is that the I is completely empty of existence from its own side; it has no inherent existence. However, even though it doesn't exist at all from its own side, the merely labeled I appears to exist from its own side because of our hallucinated mind. The imprint left on our mind by our past ignorance, the past concept of true existence, projects the I as having inherent existence. It appears in this way because it is the projection of the imprint left on our mind by the past concept of true existence. 

When the I appears to us in this way and we then believe it to be true, at that time we are creating the ignorance that is the root of samsara. Because our own mind created this ignorance, the root of suffering, we can also eliminate it and free ourselves from samsara. We can be completely free from the whole of samsara, from all suffering and its causes, from all the suffering realms; we can be completely free from these defiled aggregates, this association of body and mind, which create the future samsara.

The I is not appearing to us in accordance with reality, but as something else, which doesn't exist, and we cling to that, believing it to be true. Having these wrong conceptions is the fundamental problem of life. This is the fundamental hallucination in life. Here I've been talking just about the I, one phenomenon amongst numberless phenomena. Like the I, these numberless phenomena don't appear to us in accordance with reality. They also appear to us as something else, which doesn't exist, and we believe in that. So, we have created a big hallucination; our world is one huge hallucination. This is the fundamental suffering of samsara, the fundamental root that creates the whole of samsara.