Release Your Cows … Be Happy

Attachments are Commonly the Cause of Much Suffering

In response to my article on tempering our expectations and avoiding disappointments, a dear friend inquired,

I follow the idea that when one has no control over a situation, one should not have their desired outcome be their expectations or it will lead to disappointment. Ex: I want my favorite sports team to win, but I am not a player who can change the outcome.

But where does this leave someone with a grand vision or a 10-year plan? We all start out having to learn, having to grow, not having the answers, having to “figure it out”. Do you tell a young doctor “you can’t cure cancer”?

How do you bridge from this idea of expectations to one that explains how one can navigate through life and achieve great accomplishments, like finding a cure for cancer?

Attachments are Commonly the Cause of Much Suffering

We Suffer—and Make Our Loved Ones Suffer—when We Try to Hold on to Things

Life is enjoyable, joyful, fascinating, and purposeful because of the attachments we form. Nevertheless, Buddhism teaches us, the loss of these very attachments is the root cause of the worst pains in life. Even the realization of the prospective loss of a cherished attachment—a person, pet, feeling, hope, ambition, or an inanimate object—can make us suffer.

'The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching' by Thich Nhat Hanh (ISBN 0767903692) The Buddha taught that all conditioned phenomena (everything we can know through our senses) are impermanent and transient. Everything we come across and all our “encounters” end in eventual separation. Expounding this foremost ingredient of the Buddhist thinking, the renowned Vietnamese-French Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (b.1926) narrates a Buddhist parable in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching:

One day, after the Buddha and a group of monks finished eating lunch mindfully together, a farmer, very agitated, came by and asked, “Monks, have you seen my cows? I don’t think I can survive so much misfortune.” The Buddha asked him, “What happened” and the man said, “Monks, this morning all twelve of my cows ran away. And this year my whole crop of sesame plants was eaten by insects!” The Buddha said, “Sir, we have not seen your cows. Perhaps they have gone in the other direction.” After the farmer went off in that direction, the Buddha turned to his Sangha and said, “Dear friends, do you know you are the happiest people on Earth? You have no cows or sesame plants to lose.” We always try to accumulate more and more, and we think these ‘cows’ are essential for our existence. In fact, they may be the obstacles that prevent us from being happy. Release your cows and become a free person. Release your cows so you can be truly happy.

In a Graceful State, There is No Clinging, No Expectation, and No Desire

Though somewhat pedestrian, there is a profound wisdom in developing a sense of nonattachment (Sanskrit: upādāna.) Take for example our personal relationships. They are always a challenge because we keep wanting others—family, friends, and colleagues, even pets—to be who we want them to be for us. But if we can learn to accept them for who they are and let go of our conceptions of their perfection for us, our relationships become more straightforward and richer.

Often, the Buddhist concept of nonattachment is misunderstood as “non-loving” and relinquishment. The “absence of craving” (alobha) is the opposite of “craving” or “greed” (lobha). Nonattachment is not to abandon our loved ones, but to dispose of tendencies of self-protective clinging that preclude us from treasuring our loved ones more unreservedly and unconditionally.

All conditioned phenomenon are subject to emerging and passing. The more we attach to things that will change and pass away, the more we will suffer. The more expectations we have—for material success, for comfort, for exclusively happy relationships—the greater our inevitable disappointments.

Idea for Impact: Let Go, Be Happy

Release Your Cows » No Clinging, No Expectation, and No Desire Learn to let go of your metaphorical cows—those things you’re attached to. Only when you can get out of your own way, you can allow the world and its riches to work their magic. Embrace that prosperity.

Remember, nonattachment is neither indifference nor self-denial. Accepting the nature of our clinging and attachments in their true and transient nature eases our fears, opens our hearts, and benefits others and ourselves. Letting go of attachments is the secret to really enjoying life and loving others. It is freedom. It is nirvāṇa.

Learn to Manage Your Negative Emotions and Yourself

Negative emotions not only take their toll on our mind, body, and spirit, but also hinder your liberation from suffering, according to the Buddhist way of life.

People who lack the capacity to withstand psychological distresses such as anger, fear, frustration, and sadness are at a marked disadvantage in life. When faced with life’s unceasing challenges, they respond with greater emotional distress. Worse yet, rather than deal with the challenge at hand wisely, they engage in destructive behaviors, often with verbal and physical aggression toward themselves and others.

Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati on resilience and equanimity

There’s great strength in learning to divorce yourself from negative emotions

People with lower tolerance for distress usually spin their wheels and find as many escapes—including substance abuse and binging—as their troubled minds can conjure up. Instead of allowing themselves a modest amount of grieving, rebounding quickly, and moving on with their lives, they feel victimized. They avoid people and situations that may provoke frustration, discomfort, embarrassment, and uncertainty. In due course, their mind, body, and spirit start to atrophy.

Speaking of the need to expand the human capacity of resilience and equanimity and learn from adversity to achieve success, the renowned Hindu spiritual teacher Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati (1916–93) once said, “The secret of success behind all men of achievement, lies in the faculty of applying their intellect in all their activities, without being mislead by any surging emotions or feelings. The secret of success in life lies in keeping the head above the storms of the heart.”

Having a propensity to react negatively will hurt your career and personal life

When the celebrated American tennis player Andre Agassi (who was infamous for his temperaments) was asked in a Harvard Business Review interview if he learned to manage his emotions when he played, Agassi replied,

I’ve seen people use emotion, positive or negative, as a tool, and it works for them. But typically, the more you can remove emotion, the more efficient you’ll be. You can be an inch from winning but still miles away if you allow emotion to interfere with the last step. So you have to accept the weather, heat, rain, stops and starts, the line calls, whatever your opponent is giving you, however tired or injured you are. There are so many things that can distract you from taking care of business. The only thing you can control is your engagement.

Equanimity is thus at the center of Buddhist practice

When you learn to better understand, tolerate, and harness negative emotions, you become empowered.

Learn to manage your negative emotions and yourself. From Buddhist perspective, learn to thoughtfully attend to your negative emotions with an emphasis on neither suppressing them nor acting them out. According to verse 4.34 in Udāna, eighty stories that contain eighty utterances of the Buddha,

Whose mind is like rock, steady, unmoved,
dispassionate for things that spark passion,
unangered by things that spark anger:
When one’s mind is developed like this,
from where can there come suffering & stress?

Equanimity is thus at the center of Buddhist practice, which prescribes many forms of disciplined practices to overcoming the harmful effects of destructive emotions. According to the Therīgāthā (“verses of the female elders”,) a set of principles composed by senior nuns during the lifetime of the Buddha,

If your mind becomes firm like a rock
And no longer shakes
In a world where everything is shaking,
Your mind will be your greatest friend
And suffering will not come your way.

Idea for Impact: Negative emotions and the destructive behaviors they breed are essentially always wrong—they are psychological errors you’ll do well to eliminate in yourself.

The Gift of the Present Moment

People Tend to Live a Fantasy … They are Unable to Remain in the Present Moment

Most people tend to focus on things that aren’t happening right now. They get easily distracted. Through their bodies are present physically, their minds are elsewhere. They become easily absorbed in the past, get depressed, and compulsively pick over the past with the purpose of learning their lessons. Or else, they project themselves into a hypothetical future, get anxious, and worry about things that may never occur.

'Present Moment Wonderful Moment' by Thich Nhat Hanh (ISBN 1888375612) According to the renowned Vietnamese-French Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (b.1926), life can be found only in the present moment. In his Present Moment, Wonderful Moment, a persistently insightful discourse on the Zen-Buddhist philosophy of dwelling in the present moment and living a meaningful life, Hanh writes,

When we are driving, we tend to think of arriving, and we sacrifice the journey for the sake of the arrival. But life is to be found in the present moment, not in the future. In fact, we may suffer more after we arrive at our destination. If we have to talk of a destination, what about our final destination, the graveyard? We do not want to go in the direction of death; we want to go in the direction of life. But where is life? Life can be found only in the present moment. Therefore, each mile we drive, each step we take, has to bring us to the present moment. This is the practice of mindfulness.

When we see a red light or a stop sign, we can smile at it and thank it, because it is a bodhisattva helping us to return to the present moment. The red light is a bell of mindfulness. We may have thought of it as an enemy, preventing us from achieving our goal. But now we know the red light is our friend, helping resist rushing and calling us to return to the present moment where we can meet with life, joy and peace.

The prominence on living the present moment is perhaps the defining characteristic of the Zen philosophy. This attitude tries to get you to understand that life exists only in the present, or nowhere at all. There’s no purpose in getting anywhere, if, when you get there, all you do is think about yet another future moment.

The Gift of the Present Moment

Reclaim and Expand the Present Moment

'Calming Your Anxious Mind' by Jeffrey Brantley (ISBN 1572244879) Life is only available in the present moment. The past is just a memory and the future is merely a projection. The American psychiatrist Jeffery Brantley writes about the importance of awakening to the present moment by way of discipline and deliberate practice in Calming Your Anxious Mind:

Everything happens in the present moment. It is in the present moment, the now, that you live. All of experience, whether it occurs inside your skin or outside your skin, is happening in this moment. In order to live more fully, to meet the stressors and challenges of life (including fear, panic, and anxiety) more effectively, and to embrace the wonder and awe of life more completely, it is fundamental that each of us learns to connect with and dwell in the present moment.

To teach yourself the art of attention and presence is both a difficult and beautiful undertaking. The habits of inattention and absence are strong, yet the experience of life, moment by moment, is precious.

Bear in Mind, Your Present Life-span is Only One Moment Long. So Live It Now.

'Fear Essential Wisdom' by Thich Nhat Hanh (ISBN 0062004727) In Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm, Thich Nhat Hanh explains that mindfulness lets us become “aware of what is going on in the present moment—in our bodies, in our feelings, in our perceptions, in the world.” Hanh advocates grounding ourselves in the present moment via mindfulness meditation:

When we are not fully present, we are not really living. We’re not really there, either for our loved ones or for ourselves. If we’re not there, then where are we? We are running, running, running, even during our sleep. We run because we’re trying to escape from our fear.

We cannot enjoy life if we spend our time and energy worrying about what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow. If we’re afraid all the time, we miss out on the wonderful fact that we’re alive and can be happy right now. In everyday life, we tend to think that happiness is only possible in the future. We’re always looking for “right” conditions that we don’t yet have to make us happy. We ignore what is happening right in front of us. We look for something that will make us feel more solid, more safe, more secure. But we’re afraid all the time of what the future will bring—afraid we’ll lose our jobs, our possessions, the people around us whom we love. So we wait and hope for that magical moment—always sometime in the future—when everything will be as we want it to be. We forget that life is available only in the present moment. The Buddha said, “It is possible to live happily in the present moment. It is the only moment we have.”

Establish Yourself in the Present Moment

Idea for Impact: Whatever adverse happened or whatever bad looms, don’t let it spoil the present moment.

Learn how to pay attention to the present moment rather than getting tied up in negative thinking about the past or the future.

When you establish yourself in the present moment, you can live life and make the most of those stimulating, refreshing, and nourishing elements of life that are always within you and around you. As the American psychologist and yogic scholar Richard Miller said, “In the end, we realize how simple life is when we accept this moment, just as it is, without pretending to be other than who we are.”

Heaven and Hell: A Zen Parable on Self-Awareness


Your Mind Renders the Outer Condition into Inner Pain and Suffering—or Joy and Happiness

The state of your mind plays a vital role in shaping your everyday experiences of joy and happiness, and your general physical and mental well-being.

If you can maintain a peaceful and tranquil state of mind, the external conditions can cause you only limited disturbance. However, if your mental state is tense, restless, and agitated, you’ll find it difficult to be at peace even in the best of circumstances—even if you’re surrounded by the best of your friends and family.

When you truly become aware of how much damage negative emotions can cause—for yourself and for others—you will not indulge them even a bit.

The following Zen ‘koan’ parable (see source in postscript) validates the potential dangers that can occur when you fall prey to your negative emotions.

When you become aware of how much damage negative emotions can cause, you will not indulge them even a bit.

Heaven and Hell: A Zen Parable

A tough, brawny samurai once approached a Zen master who was deep in meditation.

Impatient and discourteous, the samurai demanded in his husky voice so accustomed to forceful yelling, “Tell me the nature of heaven and hell.”

The Zen master opened his eyes, looked the samurai in the face, and replied with a certain scorn, “Why should I answer to a shabby, disgusting, despondent slob like you? A worm like you, do you think I should tell you anything? I can’t stand you. Get out of my sight. I have no time for silly questions.”

The samurai could not bear these insults. Consumed by rage, he drew his sword and raised it to sever the master’s head at once.

Looking straight into the samurai’s eyes, the Zen master tenderly declared, “That’s hell.”

The samurai froze. He immediately understood that anger had him in its grip. His mind had just created his own hell—one filled with resentment, hatred, self-defense, and fury. He realized that he was so deep in his torment that he was ready to kill somebody.

The samurai’s eyes filled with tears. Setting his sword aside, he put his palms together and obsequiously bowed in gratitude for this insight.

The Zen master gently acknowledged with a delicate smile, “And that’s heaven.”

Self-Awareness & Self-Regulation: The Bases of Emotional Intelligence

'Emotional Intelligence' by Daniel Goleman (ISBN 055380491X) Retelling this Zen parable in his influential bestseller, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, the Harvard psychologist Daniel Goleman comments, “The sudden awakening of the samurai to his own agitated state illustrates the crucial difference between being caught up in a feeling and becoming aware that you are being swept away by it. Socrates’s injunction ‘Know thyself’ speaks to the keystone of emotional intelligence: awareness of one’s own feelings as they occur.”

In Emotional Intelligence (1995) and in his legendary Harvard Business Review article What Makes a Leader (1998), Goleman further argues that self-awareness and self-regulation are essential elements of emotional intelligence. In What Makes a Leader, he writes, “Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and drives. … People who have a high degree of self-awareness recognize how their feelings hurt them, other people, and their job performance.”

With reference to self-regulation, “Biological impulses drive our emotions. We cannot do away with them—but we can do much to manage them. Self-regulation, which is like an ongoing inner conversation, is the component of emotional intelligence that frees us from being prisoners of own feelings. People [with high self-regulation] feel bad moods and emotional impulses just as everyone else does, but they find ways to control them and even to channel them in useful ways.”

The Stoic Philosophers Advocated an Equanimous Outlook to Life

Equanimity is an essential state of mind that you must maintain when interacting with people who rub you the wrong way or push your buttons.

Equanimity (apatheia in Greek and aequanimitas in Latin) was one of the ideals of Stoic philosophy, the third great philosophy of the Ancient World. The ex-slave and leading Stoic philosopher Epictetus teaches, “Man is troubled not by events, but by the meaning he gives them.”

Marcus Aurelius, who finally carried Stoic philosophy into the emperor’s seat, writes in Meditations, “When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.”

Equanimity is an Essential Buddhist Virtue

In Buddhism, equanimity (upekṣā in Sanskrit and upekkha in Pali) denotes a mind that is at peace notwithstanding stressful and unpleasant experiences. In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, the Vietnamese-French Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh defines upekṣā as “equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination, even-mindedness, or letting go. Upa means ‘over,’ and iksh means ‘to look.’ You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other.”

In Dhamma Reflections, the American Buddhist monk Bhikkhu Bodhi describes equanimity as “evenness of mind, unshakeable freedom of mind, a state of inner equipoise that cannot be upset by gain and loss, honor and dishonor, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. Upekkha is freedom from all points of self-reference; it is indifference only to the demands of the ego-self with its craving for pleasure and position, not to the well-being of one’s fellow human beings.”

'Comfortable With Uncertainty' by Pema Chodron (ISBN 1590306260) In Comfortable With Uncertainty, an excellent discourse on overcoming the many challenges that life presents us, the renowned Buddhist nun Pema Chodron discusses the above Zen parable and comments,

The view of the warrior-bodhisattva is not “Hell is bad and heaven is good” or “Get rid of hell and just seek heaven.” Instead, we encourage ourselves to developing an open heart and an open mind to heaven, to hell, to everything. Only with this kind of equanimity can we realize that no matter what comes along, we’re always standing in the middle of open space. Only with equanimity can we see that everything that comes into our circle has come to teach us what we need to know.

Equanimous Outlook to Life Through Mind Training

Transcending Turmoil through Mind Training

If life is what you make of it, you can shape your attitudes and behavior by possessing a calm and stable mind.

Centuries of eastern contemplative practices have posited that regular physical yoga exercises and mindfulness meditation can train your mind to regulate your emotional states and bring about positive effects on your physical health and psychological well-being. In the last two decades, thanks to the Dalai Lama’s collaboration with the scientific community through programs such as the Mind and Life Institute, a growing number of scholars in the biological and cognitive sciences are convinced that such contemplative practices are a substantially beneficial introspective laboratory into the effects of negative emotions on overall wellbeing.

Given that your mind is the cause of all emotional upheaval, you can attain an enlightened state of mind by transcending turmoil. Practice of yoga and meditation can help you develop a compassionate assessment of the feelings of pain and suffering, and pleasure and happiness that dominate your existence.

In several well-known books and lectures (such as the Habits of Happiness TED Talk,) the French biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk Matthieu Ricard has popularized the practice of mindfulness meditation as the key to mind training. In Motionless Journey, his awe-inspiring photographic journal of his retreat in the Himalayas, Ricard writes,

A [practitioner] begins by understanding that true happiness does not fundamentally depend on changing external conditions, but rather on changing his own mind and the way it translates the circumstances of existence into happiness or frustration. He sees that as long as he is still not rid of hatred, obsession, pride, jealousy and the other mental poisons, it is as hopeless to expect happiness as it would be to hold his hand in a fire and hope not to be burnt.

Postscript / Source: The Zen Koan “The Gates of Paradise”

Japanese-American Buddhist teacher Gyomay M. Kubose‘s Zen Koans (1973) includes a faithful translation of the parable from Shasekishū (trans. Sand and Pebbles,) an anthology of koans by the thirteenth century Japanese Zen monk Mujū DŌkyŌ:

Nobushige, a soldier, came to Hakuin, a famous Zen Master, and asked, “Is there really a paradise and a hell?”

“Who are you?” inquired Hakuin.

“I am a samurai,” Nobushige replied.

“You, a samurai!” exclaimed Hakuin. “What kind of lord would have you as his guard? You look like a beggar!”

Nobushige became so enraged that he began to draw his sword.

Hakuin continued, “So you have a sword. It is probably too dull to even cut off my head.”

Nobushige brandished his weapon.

Hakuin remarked, “Here, open the gates of hell.”

At these words the perceptive samurai sheathed his sword and bowed.

“Here, open the gates of paradise,” said Hakuin.

Seinfeld, Impermanence, Death, Grief, and the Parable of the Mustard Seed

Jerry Seinfeld Found Acceptance in His Father’s Death

Jerry Seinfeld This February-2002 article from the newspaper-magazine Parade quotes comedian Jerry Seinfeld on coping with the death of his father. Instead of recalling emotions of sadness and loss, Seinfeld declares he found acceptance:

His dad’s death at age 66, when Jerry Seinfeld was 30, was the first great loss of Seinfeld’s life. Did it crush him? Surprisingly, after a brief pause, he says no. “I tend to accept life as it is,” he says. “I’m not one of these ‘Life isn’t fair’ people. I tend to accept whatever the limits are, whatever the rules are.” He sits back. His love for his father is evident, but no more evident than his acceptance of the basic facts that the man is no longer around … “It’s okay,” Seinfeld says. And you get the feeling that it is.

Acknowledging Impermanence Can Foster Happiness

The above anecdote about Jerry Seinfeld invokes the Buddhist concept that everything—including life—is impermanent. The Buddha taught, “Decay is inherent in all component things.”

Life, Death and Rebirth in Hinduism Nothing in the world is fixed and permanent. Everything is subject to change and alteration. Life offers no control or consistency but rather impermanence and successive changes—youth changes into old age; the past changes to the present and then into the future.

Suffering, Buddhism teaches, is caused by unrealistic expectations of permanence—especially in relationships. Accepting impermanence can therefore lead to an existence with less suffering. Appreciating that everything in life is fragile and impermanent can foster an appreciation of the present.

Buddhist Parable of the Mustard Seed

Kisagotami and Parable of the Mustard Seed in Buddhism When faced with adversities you must feel and experience—not deny—your emotions, and then embark on a healing process by looking at the situation in a more realistic light.

The Buddha used a well-known parable to help a woman prevail over the death of her son. Here is the “Parable of the Mustard Seed” from British Pali scholar T W Rhys Davids‘s Buddhism: A Sketch of the Life and Teachings of Gautama, the Buddha (1894:)

Kisagotami is the name of a young girl, whose marriage with the only son of a wealthy man was brought about in true fairy-tale fashion. She had one child, but when the beautiful boy could run alone, it died.

The young girl in her love for it carried the dead child clasped to her bosom, and went from house to house of her pitying friends asking them to give her medicine for it. But a Buddhist mendicant, thinking “She does not understand,” said to her, “My good girl, I myself have no such medicine as you ask for, but I think I know of one who has.” “O tell me who that is,” said Kisagotami. “The Buddha can give you medicine; go to him,” was the answer.

She went to Gautama, and doing homage to him, said, “Lord and master, do you know any medicine that will be good for my child?” “Yes, I know of some,” said the Teacher. Now it was the custom for patients or their friends to provide the herbs which the doctors required, so she asked what herbs he would want. “I want some mustard-seed,” he said; and when the poor girl eagerly promised to bring some of so common a drug, he added, “You must get it from some house where no son, or husband, or parent, or slave has died.” “Very good,” she said, and went to ask for it, still carrying her dead child with her.

The people said, “Here is mustard seed, take it”; but when she asked, “In my friend’s house has any son died, or a husband, or a parent or slave?” they answered, “Lady, what is this that you say; the living are few, but the dead are many.” Then she went to other houses, but one said, “I have lost a son “; another, “We have lost our parents”; another, “I have lost my slave.”

At last, not being able to find a single house where no one had died, her mind began to clear, and summoning up resolution, she left the dead body of her child in a forest, and returning to the Buddha paid him homage. He said to her, “Have you the mustard seed?” “My Lord,” she replied, “I have not; the people tell me that the living are few, but the dead are many.” Then he talked to her on that essential part of his system the impermanency of all things, till her doubts were cleared away, and, accepting her lot, she became a disciple and entered the first Path.

Buddhism: Acknowledging Impermanence Can Foster Happiness

Swiss novelist Hermann Hesse wrote in Siddhartha, “I learned… to love the world, and no longer compare it with some kind of imaginary vision of perfection, but to leave it as it is, to love it and be glad to belong to it… Everything is necessary, everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding; then all is well with me and nothing can harm me.”

Idea for Impact: The key to finding equanimity and contentment in life is to develop a heightened acceptance of reality.

Postscript: The Buddhist parable of the mustard seed is not to be confused with the identically-titled Christian parables in Matthew 13:31–32 of the New Testament: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” This parable also appears in Mark 4:30–32 and Luke 13:18–19.

Addiction to Pleasure is a Symptom of Fear

The Problem is Not That There is Pleasure …

Addiction to Pleasure is a Symptom of FearThe historical Buddha offered a profound analysis of the suffering that is an element of human existence.

The first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths teaches that life encompasses “unsatisfactoriness”—or suffering. In other words, life, by its nature, is difficult, flawed, and less-than-perfect.

The second of the Four Noble Truths teaches that the origin of suffering is attachment—or craving and desire. Indeed, the desire to avoid pain and seek pleasure itself leads to suffering.

The key to understanding the Buddha’s diagnosis of human suffering is the concept of clinging to pleasure, and with that, creating a world of suffering. Whenever we seek pleasure, not only do we become dependent on the eagerness to find it, but also we create an existence of suffering, because pleasure is impermanent and fleeting.

… The Problem is That There is Clinging to Pleasure.

The third and the fourth of the Four Noble Truths teach that the way to become enlightened is to purge ourselves of our attachment to pleasure or to any source of satisfaction that could trigger distress in seeking to make it permanent.

Discussing the reality that clinging to pleasure always brings pain, the meditation teacher and author Christina Feldman writes in The Buddhist Path to Simplicity,

'The Buddhist Path to Simplicity' by by Christina Feldman (ISBN 0007323611) The other great obstacle to mindful attention is our addiction to pleasure; an addiction that holds within it our fear of being overwhelmed or paralyzed by the unpleasant, challenging thoughts, encounters, feelings and sensations that are part of the fabric of our lives. By filtering our senses and minds with food, sound, information, and entertainment, we also numb ourselves. Increasingly, we find it difficult to embrace the unpleasant events or challenges that life brings to us. We forget the simple truth that freedom relies upon embracing the whole of our life and world. Busy with pursuing, avoiding, and modifying we attempt to convince ourselves that we are safe from the unpredictability of a life that offers no guarantees. We try to build sandcastles before an oncoming tide.

Our life will continue to bring us the sweet, delightful, even glorious moments, but it will also bring the sour. We cannot command the world or our mind to deliver to us only the pleasant and shield us from the unpleasant. Bare attention teaches us to find balance and steadiness; it protects us from fear and offers a reliable refuge in a changing and fragile world. Mindfulness is always available and we are invited to help ourselves to the peace and freedom it offers.

The stillness and calmness born of bare attention are not ends in themselves but a door to liberating wisdom. They are the foundation upon which understanding is built. Wisdom is an understanding of the nature of life and ourselves, deeply seeing what is true on a cellular level. Listening to the story of the present moment invites us to understand the story of all moments.

Temper Your Expectations: Avoid Disappointments in Life

Temper Your Expectations: Avoid Disappointments in Life

The Buddha’s vision of existence is expressed in the truth of pain and suffering. He taught that redemption comes solely from knowledge, the root of which lies in awareness of the reasons for suffering.

'Wisdom of the Buddha' by Max Muller (ISBN 0486411206) According to the first of the Buddha’s Four Nobel Truths, worldly existence is fundamentally unsatisfactory: “This is the truth of pain: birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful. Contact with unpleasant things is painful, not getting what one wishes is painful.”

Core to the Buddhist approach to life is to lower our expectations, thereby raising our joys. If pain and suffering constitute the gap between what we want and what we have, surely we have the power to change what we want.

Verse 94 in The Dhammapada (ref. Max Muller‘s Wisdom of the Buddha) declares, “The gods even envy him whose senses, like horses well broken in by the driver, have been subdued, who is free from pride, and free from appetites.”

'The Discourses of Epictetus' by Arrian, George Long (ISBN 1934255319) Mirroring the Buddha’s teaching, the great Stoic philosopher Epictetus (55–135 CE) taught the following (ref. the Enchiridion or the Manual of Epictetus compiled by his disciple Arrian):

But, for the present, totally suppress desire: for, if you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you must necessarily be disappointed; … If, for example, you are fond of a specific ceramic cup, remind yourself that it is only ceramic cups in general of which you are fond. Then, if it breaks, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, say that you only kiss things which are human, and thus you will not be disturbed if either of them dies. … Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. … Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well. … Whoever, then, would be free, let him wish nothing … wish things to be only just as they are, and him only to conquer who is the conqueror, for thus you will meet with no hindrance.”

Idea for Impact: Trying to change people will result in frustration and futility. They may change in a short time, but unless there is a compelling reason for change (e.g., a significant emotional event that shocks them,) people go back to their natural state. Find the people who have the behaviors you want and teach them the skills they need to be productive.

The Source of All Happiness: A Spirit of Generosity

Dalai Lama with Matthieu Ricard

Thinking of Others is the Source of All Happiness

'Little Book of Inner Peace' by The Dalai Lama (ISBN 1571746099) In the Little Book of Inner Peace, the Dalai Lama writes,

In this world, all qualities spring from preferring the well-being of others to our own, whereas frustrations, confusion, and pain result from selfish attitudes. By adopting an altruistic outlook and by treating others in the way they deserve, our own happiness is assured as a byproduct. We should realize that self-centeredness is the source of all suffering, and that thinking of others is the source of all happiness.

Interconnectedness

At a 2006 TED conference, Robert Thurman gave a pithy discourse called “We Can Be Buddhas” on the Buddhist concepts of interconnectedness, empathy, and compassion. Thurman is Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, an ordained Buddhist monk, founder of the Tibet House, and father of actress Uma Thurman.

Where compassion comes is where you surprisingly discover you lose yourself in some way: through art, through meditation, through understanding, through knowledge actually, knowing that you have no such boundary, knowing your interconnectedness with other beings. You can experience yourself as the other beings when you see through the delusion of being separated from them. When you do that, you’re forced to feel what they feel.

When you’re no longer locked in yourself … you let your mind spread out, and empathize, and enhance the basic human ability of empathizing, and realizing that you are the other being, somehow by that opening, you can see the deeper nature of life.

The Dalai Lama says that when you give birth in your mind to the idea of compassion, it’s because you realize that you, yourself and your pains and pleasures are finally too small a theater for your intelligence.

Being compassionate is a selfish thing to do.

Doing something loving for a person in your life can give you an emotional high. It helps you focus outside of yourself and on the needs of others. Paradoxically enough, this outward focus and compassionate behavior benefit you. Reiterating this concept, Thurman states:

The way of helping those who are suffering badly on the physical plane or on other planes is having a good time, doing it by having a good time … the key to compassion is that it is more fun. It should be done by fun. Generosity is more fun. That’s the key.

Compassion means to feel the feelings of others, and the human being actually is compassion.

When you stop focusing on the self-centered situation … (and) you decide, “Well, I’m sick of myself. I’m going to think of how other people can be happy. I’m going to get up in the morning and think, what can I do for even one other person, even a dog, my dog, my cat, my pet, my butterfly?” And the first person who gets happy when you do that, you don’t do anything for anybody else, but you get happier, you yourself, because your whole perception broadens and you suddenly see the whole world and all of the people in it. And you realize that this—being with these people—is Nirvana.

Anger Is Often Pointless / How to Free Yourself from Anger

Buddha on Anger (Dhammapada)

Anger is often nothing more than an intense emotion caused by an apparent injustice. The destructive outcomes of anger are well known. When even a slight annoyance arises, it is capable of growing quickly and overwhelming your state of mind.

Anger results in (1) a loss of perspective and judgement, (2) impulsive and irrational behavior that is destructive to both yourself and others, and (3) loss of face, compassion, and social credibility.

Anger is often pointless, as the following Buddhist parable will illustrate.

Often, there’s no one to blame

Once upon a time, a farmer was paddling his boat upstream to deliver his produce to a distant village. It was a sultry day, so he was covered in sweat. He was in a great hurry to reach the village market.

Further on upstream, the farmer spotted another boat rapidly moving downstream toward his vessel. It looked as though this boat was going to hit him. In response, he paddled feverishly to move out of the way, but it didn’t seem to help. He yelled, “Hey, watch out!” The other boat seemed to approach him swiftly. The farmer shouted, “Hey, you’re going to hit me! Adjust your direction.” He got no response and continued to yell in vain.

As a last resort, the farmer stood up angrily waving his arms and shaking his fist. The other boat smashed right into him. He was hopping mad and cried out, “You imbecile! How could you hit my boat in the middle of this wide river? Couldn’t you hear me asking you to get out of my way? What is wrong with you?”

Then, all of a sudden, the farmer realized that the boat was empty; it had perhaps cut loose of its moorings and floated downstream with the current. He calmed down and realized that there was no one to blame but an empty boat and the river. His anger was purposeless.

Anger depletes energy and leads to loss of perspective and judgement

When you lose your inner peace, you expect that your anger can help you get even with the offending person or amend the vexing circumstances. However, responding with anger is illogical. The offending deed has already occurred, a fact your anger fails to negate. Also, your anger cannot thwart or diminish the perceived wrong.

In the New Testament, Ephesians 4:26–27 advise, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

How to Free Yourself from Anger

Free yourself from anger

There is no benefit to anger at all. All anger can beget is negative energy, which can aggravate an already volatile situation. Anger can also impede sound judgement and inhibit your ability to consider the negative consequences of your abrupt reactions.

The next time you’re angry, consider the following response:

  • Stop. Don’t respond immediately. Walk away from the situation that has instigated your anger.
  • Breathe deeply. Become fully aware of your state of mind. Assess what’s going on.
  • Calm down and compose yourself. Invoke mindfulness to appeal to your wisdom. Anger and other emotional arousals often stem from a lack of self-awareness or mindlessness, and can simmer down if you just wait long enough.
  • Consider the matter from other points of view. Ask if there could be other possible explanations for what happened.
  • Identify the reasons for your anger by asking three questions: (1) “Is this matter serious enough to get worked up about?” (2) “Is my anger necessary and warranted?” (3) “Will getting angry make a difference?”
  • Reflect about what response will be most effective. Try to develop a wise and measured course of action.

Idea for Impact: A low-anger life is a happier life

Patience is the definitive antidote to anger and aggression. With patience, you may not always be able to eliminate anger, but you can usually control it. Patience can build and fortify your intellectual and psychological resources.

As Proverbs 19:11 tells in the Hebrew Bible, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” Ultimately, developing greater patience enhances your romantic, personal, professional, and casual relationships—as well as that all-important relationship: the one you have with yourself.

Don’t Reject Your Spiritual Traditions Altogether in Favor of Another

Don't Reject Your Spiritual Traditions Altogether in Favor of Another All over the world, organized religion is on a protracted decline. However, in Western societies, Buddhism is one of the fastest growing “religions” in terms of new converts.

In these Western societies, many people take to Buddhism because of the appeal of meditation and the substantial self-help benefits attributed to persistent meditative practice. Some Neo-Buddhists are motivated enough to warm up slowly but surely to the fact that Buddhism is much more than mere meditation. They come to understand that the Buddhist way of life is atheistic and emphasizes ethics. They draw inspiration from the realization that they alone are responsible for their own attitudes, intentions, decisions, actions, and behaviors. As University of St. Thomas’s Stephen Laumakis wrote in An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy,

The single most important or most basic insight of the historical Buddha is the claim that who we are and what we think exists is a function of our mind and its cognitive powers. In other words, it is our mind and our uses of it that determine how we see and understand our self, the world, and other things.

On the other hand, some new Buddhist practitioners have misgivings especially as regards the religious or esoteric philosophical aspects of Buddhism. They continue to seek and practice meditation techniques in a secular, non-Buddhist context.

Buddhism has never sought strength in number of adherents

As I have mentioned in my previous article, Buddhism is more of a philosophy of life—a “spiritual practice”—than a religion in the Abrahamic sense.

When Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and other prominent Buddhist teachers started teaching Buddhism in the West during the ’80s, they did not intend to establish a beachhead. Rather, they intended to help educate enthusiasts and help Westerners return, with renewed spirit, to their own religions. In Teachings on Love, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:

'Teachings on Love' by Thich Nhat Hanh (ISBN 1888375000) Many Westerners attracted to Buddhist practice have abandoned their own spiritual traditions. They reject the churches and clergy of their own traditions because they feel constricted and uncomfortable with the attitudes and practices they have encountered there. They have suffered within their own tradition and so have sought another. They approach Buddhist practice with the hope of replacing their own tradition and may wish to break away from their own tradition forever.

According to Buddhist wisdom, such wishing is in vain. A person severed from her own culture and traditions is like a tree pulled out by the roots. Such a person will find it hard to be happy. Buddhist practice can offer effective means to heal, reconcile, and reunite with one’s blood and spiritual families, in order to discover the precious gems in one’s own traditions. Thanks to the practice, people will see that Buddhism and their own spiritual tradition have many things in common, and therefore it is not necessary to reject their own spiritual tradition. They will see that there are things that need to be transformed in Buddhism as well as in their own tradition.

Idea for Impact: Forcefully rejecting one’s religious, spiritual, or cultural tradition in favor of another is not conducive to happiness and peace of mind. Buddhism encourages the Neo-Buddhists to employ insights from their Buddhist practices to find what may have been previously overlooked in their long-established beliefs.