By Ven. Lhundub Chodron
Many people walk through the doors of a Dharma Center because of a deep dissatisfaction with their lives. They have bought into the idea that happiness could be attained through sources outside themselves such as wealth, a good job, an intimate relationship, a good reputation, a nice place to live.… For many, delusion sets in when they realize that all the things they invested their time and aspirations in did not in fact deliver the lasting happiness they were seeking.
All sentient beings, without exception, want happiness and do not want suffering. Yet when you look inward at your own heart/mind and outward at the state of the world it is clear that we do not understand the key to attaining lasting happiness. This is where the Dharma can help. This is why the existence of places like Shantideva Meditation Center are so critical.
It is interesting that when you look at the teachings of the Buddha, you do not get much of a sense of the Buddha as a distinct, individual personality, like you do in say the gospels of Jesus. After Buddha’s enlightenment there’s no sense of his likes or dislikes, hopes and fears, moments of desperation, elation or striving. This is consistent with the Buddha’s insistence that the Dharma he taught was not unique to himself, but rather was his direct experience of the nature of reality, and it was available to anyone willing to work for it.
What the Buddha came to realize was that everything exists only in dependence on other things. Nothing exists separately or independently. This goes for us as well. There is no such thing as a separate or independent person or self, yet our whole approach to life has been informed by this wrong view. We have gone about our lives seeking happiness for ourselves and “our people” and only considered the wellbeing of others in so far as it aided or abetted our selfish goals.
Yet the reality is that the more we are motivated by selfish desires, the more unhappy we are. The self-centered view of the world sees everyone in relation to whether they help us or hinder us in the accomplishment of our goals. Those that help me I am attached to, those that hinder me I feel anger towards and those who do not affect me personally I don’t really care about.
With this view of the world we’re riding an emotional rollercoaster where our minds are constantly agitated by destructive emotions such as attachment, anger, jealousy and arrogance to name a few. And motivated by these negative emotions, we act out in ways that harm ourselves and others, hence all the suffering in the world. We can see this throughout history. When one person does not practice controlling their anger, when one person does not practice controlling their mind and does not practice patience, loving kindness and compassion, millions of people are harmed.
During the time of the Buddha, his disciples were not called Buddhists. The Buddha called them “insiders”, literally inner beings, meaning that his followers looked for spiritual awakening within themselves, within their own heart/minds. In Buddhism the spiritual path is the mind. Practicing Dharma means subduing the mind, controlling the disturbing thoughts and emotions.
Of course anyone who has wrestled with their own minds knows that controlling ones disturbing emotions and shifting away from the world view that cherishes oneself over others is difficult and takes effort. This is the work of the “insider”, of the spiritual practitioner. In order to do this work we need to learn about the nature of our own minds, to understand where suffering comes from and how to uproot the causes of suffering. This is the teaching of the Buddha. This is why we have Dharma centers and why Shantideva Meditation Center is so valuable.
There is a beautiful image of Indra’s net that the Buddha used when discussing the interconnectedness of all phenomena. The Vedic god Indra had a multifaceted net hanging in his palace. At each intersection or vertex in the net there was a jewel and each jewel was reflected in all the other jewels. This is a lovely image of the nature of reality. The best way to fulfill our own aims is to take care of the wellbeing of others. As Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, “For happiness, cherish others.” There’s no other way to attain the lasting happiness that we all seek.
Shantideva Mediation Center is a precious jewel. It is a place where people learn about and engage in the inner work of transforming the heart and mind, a place where like-minded people come together to make a meaningful difference in their own lives and in the lives of others, a place that teaches the nature of reality and how to align oneself with it.
Ven. Lhundub Chodron is a nun practicing in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She is currently the North American representative of the International Mahayana Institute (IMI), as well as its acting Treasurer and accountant. She also serves as Treasurer to Shantideva Meditation Center.