By Ivan Latham
So much of our trouble as a species arises from our unruly thought-life.
We attach so much attention to the mists that form in our mind that they acquire a certain substance, solidify, and slam down into our previously calm mentality. We become preoccupied with their intrusion, filled with angst at what they represent, and disturbed by the waves they cause. We obsess to the point of total distraction.
Fear and fantasy, expectation of good and bad, the craving for the unwholesome and even the wholesome—when the mind is hankering so much after a certain object—sweating to achieve it or sweating to avoid it—then this is suffering. We may not realize it, and indeed millions upon millions of us have wandered in ignorance of the fact for years.
There was no understanding that every single aspect of what we call our personality was built upon these vapors that actually have no substance at all except that which we attribute to them. But, we construct a whole edifice of them, creating a citadel in the mind populated by the features that we think comprise who we are. We call the complete construct: myself, but it is a delusion; a convincing lie.
Say you have a phobia about spiders, or you hate spinach, or you simply can’t live without your smartphone. Are any of these things your real identity? You might define yourself as a spider-spinach-hating-technophile, but the reality is that this is just a veneer painted over your real nature. These fears or fixations initially arose as concepts in your mind that you latched on to. It was suggested to you that spiders are awful; you tried spinach one time and thought it vile; the TV adverts insinuated that gadgets bring happiness.
Every single thing that you believe makes that you “you” is a phenomenon of the mind. Thoughts exist, and experiences exist, but they have no existence separate from the mind. The mind is the source of all that we are—that calm sea we mentioned earlier. But, the sea is prone to ill-weather: a breeze arises, grabs our attention, becomes a gale and whips up a storm. The unwary mind is swept along by it.
Mental disturbance is a fact of human life. One cannot make a conscious effort to resist its arising otherwise one simply creates more suffering. Resistance is indeed futile because this merely adds more friction to the mix. We must neither resist nor encourage. Acceptance of suffering is essential, for it will come. But when those vapors arise in our minds, and with them the threat of a storm, we acknowledge them, but then let them pass. We do not attach any attention to them. Using this mindful acknowledgment, we can plunge beneath the wayward currents of thought, reinforcing our awareness, and helping us to maintain our connection with our true state of mind.
Of course, this is a temporary solution only. It’s a coping strategy, and a very worthwhile one. But, the wheel of Samsara rolls on, and we learn only to be comfortable for a period of its inexorable cycle. I feel that it’s impossible to be liberated from Samsara by these means during this Age. With practice, we can escape the wheel of suffering. How many trips around the block have we all made? Too many to reckon. That’s why I practice Pure Land and seek aid from Amida Buddha: Namu Amida Butsu!
Ivan Latham is a writer, blogger and Pure Land Buddhist in the Shin tradition. He is also the founder and administrator of the online Sangha of Joyful Entrusting. Originally from the UK, he lives in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, with his wife, Julia, and their three children.
Editor: John Lee Pendall
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