Three kinds of peace
Three kinds of peace
A talk given at Boise, Idaho, on June 30, 2006
- Three levels of peace that can be achieved
- How to use the three higher trainings to achieve them
Three kinds of peace (download)
I’m going to talk about peace this evening.
It seems to me that there are different kinds of peace. One kind of peace is just learning to live peaceably with other people in a day-to-day way, a way of having harmonious relationships and getting along with others. That’s one kind of peace. Another level of peace is a little bit different, and that’s just having a quiet mind without so much mental chatter. Some kind of mental peace. Turn off the television set inside here. Then a third kind of peace is a peace that is free from all negative emotions, a peace that is unshakeable, that cannot be destroyed in any way because all obscurations have been eliminated. Those are three kinds of peace that I can think of.
When I was thinking of those three kinds of peace, it seems to me that they also correlate with what we call in Buddhism the three higher trainings. When the Buddha taught the path to liberation, he taught it as the three higher trainings: the higher training of ethical discipline, the higher training of concentration, and the higher training of wisdom. So it seems to me that the first kind of peace—when we’re just getting along with other people on a day-to-day basis, having good relationships—that that has a lot to do with the higher training of ethical conduct. The second kind of peace, having a peaceful mind without so much mental chatter, would correlate very much with the higher training in concentration. The third kind of peace, the peace that’s free of all obscurations, would correlate with the higher training of wisdom. So we have those three kinds of peace correlated with the three higher trainings.
I want to talk a little bit about those three higher trainings and how to attain the different kinds of peace. The first kind of peace: we want to live peacefully with others. We want to have good relationships with the people around us, the people in society, with our family, with our friends, with the people we work with. I think one of the keys to having peace is practicing good ethical discipline. By ethical discipline in Buddhism, we’re referring to ceasing the mind that wishes to cause harm. Stopping some kind of ill will towards others and then, of course, what we say and what we do that’s motivated by anger or ill will or even actions motivated by a lot of greed and clinging and attachment. Any kind of actions motivated by confusion in our own mind, greed or clinging or anger and hostility. These kinds of actions bring a lot of disturbance in our life. When we practice abandoning these kinds of actions, automatically there’s a sense of peace that comes in our life.
Along this line, what the Buddha did is he outlined different kinds of actions that are good for us to check up if we engage in, and if we engage in them, look at what the results of them are, and if we don’t like the result, then to stop doing them and to practice the opposite. We have a list here of ten destructive actions and ten constructive actions. Why don’t I run through it with you because I find it very helpful as a framework for ethical conduct? It’s important to understand that when the Buddha outlined these things; what to abandon and what to practice, he didn’t do it as commandments. Buddha did not say, “Thou shalt not da, da, da, da, da, da, da.” But rather the Buddha said, let’s say killing, the first one. Well, what happens when you kill? What kind of mental state is that coming from? Is it coming from a good mental state inside yourself? What are you trying to achieve by doing it? What do you actually achieve? If it’s not bringing the results that you want, then maybe consider abandoning killing and practicing protecting life. It’s a kind of self reflection, a kind of questioning to ask ourselves.
Now, some of you may say, “Well, I’ve never killed anybody.” Well, maybe not any human beings, but what about mosquitos, cockroaches, lobsters, and fish. Drop them in hot water, plunk, before you eat them. Just a way to start thinking that when we kill, killing generally doesn’t create good feelings, does it? It doesn’t create good feelings in society nor within ourself nor between various groups. We could say that killing is something to abandon if we want to have peace in our lives and peace in society.
In Buddhism, we have this practice of taking precepts or trainings. We commit ourselves to do certain trainings. One training is to abandon taking life. We train our mind to do this. We train our body and speech in abandoning of taking life. Then we see what happens. That’s one thing that creates peace. Just think for a minute what would happen if everybody gave up killing for one day. Let’s say everybody said, “For one day, we’re going to keep this training not to destroy life.” What would the newspapers write about? Just think about it for a minute. All the stories about Iraq, so many things that are going on in the world. If everybody kept that one training for just 24 hours, the newspaper industry would completely change, wouldn’t it? Even us, as one individual doing that, can have a very profound effect. It can be our contribution to world peace when we stop taking life, and then to do the opposite, to protect life.
The second thing the Buddha asked us to check up on is taking what hasn’t been freely given to us. Now this can include stealing, breaking into somebody’s home let’s say, but it can also include using things that belong to your employer, not for your own personal usage. You know how we do that? “Oh let’s make a few hundred photocopies here, they’ll never miss it. I’ll make a long distance call over here. It’s OK. I don’t need to pay this tax, and I don’t need to pay that fee.” Taking things that haven’t been given to us. That can create [inaudible] with others and it can really create a sense of distrust, so it’s antithetical to creating peace in our lives, in our society. On the other hand, protecting and respecting other peoples’ personal property is quite a wonderful practice of furthering peace.
The third one is to abandon unwise and unkind sexual behavior. This chiefly means that if you’re in a relationship, going outside of your relationship or even if you’re single, going with somebody who is in a relationship. It can also include unsafe sex, there’s the danger of a sexually transmitted disease. Or it can include using somebody for one’s own gratification without having any genuine affection for them or any concern for their emotional wellbeing. We can see that when we have sexual behavior like that, it creates a lot of problems in life, doesn’t it? There’s a little bit of temporary pleasure and a lot of problems that happen afterwards. If we’re able to restrain, we might give up that temporary pleasure, but in the long run we actually have much more peace in our life.
Those three are things that we do physically. Then there are four actions that we do verbally. The first one is lying. We can see when we lie that we create a lot of problems. It’s not very conducive for peace. The interesting thing about lying, there are two things: there is the thing that we did that we don’t want people to know about and then there’s the lying to cover it up. You just can ask almost any politician or CEO and they’ll explain this to you. We have to ask ourselves, “What am I doing in the first place that I don’t want others to know about? Then, if I lie about it, what are the effects?” Because trust is something that’s so important in our relationships, isn’t it? Without trust there’s no sense of security with other people. There’s no sense of affection or harmony without trust. Telling the truth is very key to creating trust. Trust takes a long time to build amongst people. We really have to act in ways to show others that we’re worthy of trust, so we might spend a long time with people really creating trust, especially in relationships that are important to us. But then when we lie like that, we damage the trust don’t we? What happens when somebody lies to you? Do you trust them afterwards? No way. Then we have to say, “Well, what happens when I’m lying to somebody else?” We may not tell big, blatant lies, although we may. We kind of tell the story just changing that little detail just a little bit. We exaggerate that little thing just a little bit. You know that thing about little white lies? That turn into a big troublesome lies. It’s something to be careful of because it can destroy the trust that it takes so long for us to build up in relationships. It’s good to practice telling the truth.
Some people may ask, so I’ll ask it for you. What happens if telling the truth is going to hurt somebody? Well clearly if somebody comes running up to you with a shotgun and says, “Where’s so and so? I want to kill them.” You don’t say, “Right over there.” Be reasonable. But you don’t have to lie. You can distract the person. You can do all sorts of different things. Be creative in your way of diffusing the situation.
Then sometimes people ask us things like your aunt invites you over to dinner, and she forgot that you don’t like whatever, broccoli. She forgot and instead she makes a broccoli souffle. And she says, “I’m so happy you came for dinner. I’m really glad to see you. How do you like the dinner?” Now what are you going to say? “Aunt Ethel, I can’t stand broccoli. Why didn’t you remember that?” You’re not going to say that, are you? That’s not telling the truth in one way because actually is she really asking you how the souffle tastes? Is that really her question? I don’t think so. I think her question is more, “I care about you. I did something special because I wanted to show my affection for you. Are you understanding that?” Isn’t that what she’s really asking when she says, “How do you like the food?” What she’s asking is, “I’m reaching out to connect with you. Do you get that? Do you want to connect back with me?” So that’s her real question, so when you answer the question when she asks, “How do you like the food?” you can say, “I really am glad to be here with you, and I realize you cooked this food specially for me, and I’m just so happy to be here and share this meal with you because you’re somebody special to me.” Isn’t that kind of response going to answer her question truthfully? Are you saying anything about the food? No.
You see, in many of these situations when people ask a question, you don’t need to say something that’s going to be painful to them. You have to look and see what it is that they’re actually asking and see if you can answer that question in a truthful way.
Then the second one with speech is using our speech to create disharmony. This chiefly refers to talking behind other peoples’ backs. Anybody here who doesn’t do that? We do that all the time, don’t we? We’re mad at somebody, so we don’t tell the person we’re mad at about it. We tell everybody else about it. The person we need to communicate with, we don’t talk to. Instead, we tell everybody else in the family, everybody else in the office, or we call up our friend and we just dump our anger out on them. Or we scapegoat somebody and talk behind peoples’ back. That usually leads to a lot of problems in our life, doesn’t it? We talk behind somebody else’s back. They don’t appreciate it. They talk behind our back, then we’re drawing everybody else into a big conflict. It creates a very unpeaceful situation.
There is an interesting experiment is to try, every day, not to say something bad about somebody else who isn’t there in the room. Give yourself a little homework assignment. Try it for the next week: “I’m not going to say anything bad about somebody who’s not in the room.” See what happens. If you can do that, see what happens in your relationships and if you create more peace in your own life by doing that.
The opposite of lying is telling the truth. The opposite of using our speech to create disharmony is to use our speech to create harmony. If people are quarreling, try to say things that will help them to become amenable to reconciling. Included in that is instead of talking bad things behind peoples’ backs, try and say something nice behind their backs. That’s a very interesting practice. Really interesting practice. Try it along with not saying anything bad about somebody who’s not in the room, try to give yourself a homework assignment, for the next week, “Every day I’m going to say something nice about somebody.” Try it. See what happens.
I remember once I was teaching a series in Madison, Wisconsin, and I gave the people this homework assignment, and I said, “Try it out, especially with somebody that you don’t get along with very well. Every day you have to say something nice to them. Every day you have to face them in some way or another.” That night when I gave that assignment, one member was telling me “I work with this person who I really can’t stand. You’re telling us to pick somebody that we don’t get along with. I don’t think I can say anything nice about him.” I said, “Try.” The next week we were walking in to the place where the teachings were, and he and I arrived about the same time. I said, “Well how did it go?” He said, “Well, the first day I had a really hard time thinking of something nice to say about that person, so I kind of made something up. But then the guy found out that I said something nice, and you know he started acting differently around me. The second day, it was actually easier to say something nice about him. The third day, it was even easier.” It was quite curious as he started finding something to praise in the person, the other person started becoming a whole lot nicer to him. I wasn’t sure how much it was the person’s behavior changed, because I’m sure it did, and how much of it was just this old man’s attitude and his own perspective that changed, and he was able to see some goodness in his colleague. But an interesting thing to practice. Try it for the next week.
Then the third one of speech is harsh words. Harsh words are words that we say that hurt other peoples’ feelings. It doesn’t mean that we necessarily yell and scream. I mean sometimes we lose our temper and yell and scream very harsh things, but sometimes we can say very harsh words in such a sweet tone of voice. You know how it is when you know somebody really well, and you know exactly how that [inaudible] [laughter]. We know that, don’t we? The people we know, we know how to needle our way in there and really get to them. We say something really cutting, something really nasty and painful, but in this very nice tone of voice. Then when the person looks hurt or they say something to us about it, we are so astounded. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you so bent out of shape with what I said? I didn’t mean any harm.” Oh, yeah? Something to be quite aware of , how we speak harsh words with a very nice tone of voice and then try to wiggle our way out of it.
When we abandon harsh words, then we don’t have all the problems that come along with them. When we try speaking in ways that are pleasant and ways that are kind, we create so much good will in the relationships with the people around us. We can test it out. It is very clear when we do it.
The fourth one of speech is idle talk. You know that one? It’s also called gossip. We like to spend a lot of time just yak, yak, yak, yak about nothing of very much importance, but we like to hear ourselves talk. We like to monopolize the conversation. We don’t really care if somebody has something else more important to do. We don’t really care if the other person’s interested. We just want to go blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and kind of pump ourselves up, talking about things that really aren’t very important. This can create some tension in relationships because sometimes somebody has something urgent that needs to be done, and we’re preventing them from doing it because we’re taking their time with our idle talk.
Another practice in mindfulness or awareness is asking ourselves before we speak, “What am I about to say and if it’s something that’s really meaningful to communicate to the other person?” Again we can see that if we become more aware like this, our relationships with other people will really change quite dramatically. Speech is something very powerful, especially lying, creating disharmony, harsh words and idle talk. They’re so powerful. That little rhyme that we learned as children, remember, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Remember that one? Is that true? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Words hurt more than we can ever know sometimes, so for all of us who have our little storehouse of verbal weapons of mass destruction, maybe it’s time for us to disarm. Destroy our nuclear arsenal. We do that with our words, don’t we? We get really upset with somebody, we just go over there and plunk one of our weapons of mass destruction on them. All it takes is one or two sentences. We can really get to somebody. Then we say to ourselves, “Oh, I’m so glad I got my revenge. I hurt their feelings. They deserved that. Now they’re going to get a taste of their own medicine.” That’s how we rejoice when we hurt somebody’s feelings.
What does that do to our own self-esteem when we rejoice at hurting someone else’s feelings? Think about it for a minute. One part of us can go, “Oh yeah, I got him good. I got my revenge.” But what do we think about ourselves for being a person that rejoices at other people’s suffering? You see what I’m getting at? When we use our verbal weapons of mass destruction to get our revenge, it’s not a very sweet feeling in our own hearts afterwards. We damage not only the other person, but we don’t feel very good about ourselves afterwards either. To have peace with other people and some peace in our own heart, it’s good to abandon that and instead to speak wisely and kindly and in appropriate situations and for a suitable amount of time.
Then there are three mental actions that the Buddha recommended that we try and subdue in our own mind to create peace. These are coveting, ill will, and wrong views. But in discussing them, this actually leads into the second level of peace. Remember the first level of peace was just peace in our relationships? Peace in society or an external peace? The second level of peace was an internal peace. A mind that’s free from all the yakety-yak-yak. A mind that’s free of guilt and remorse and so on. That’s the second level of peace, and it has to do with the higher training of concentration in Buddhist practice.
What we’re trying to do in the higher training of concentration is to free our mind from five hindrances and to develop the ability to focus our mind on one object, a constructive, useful object, for as long as we wish. When we did the little breathing meditation before we started tonight, was anybody able to do that without having any other thoughts enter your field of awareness? Anybody able to do it totally undistracted? Our minds are all over the place. You sit down and it’s so hard just to watch one breath and be content to breathe the one time. Automatically our mind is going, “Oh I’ve got to do this, and I did that, and this person said this to me, and what am I going to say to that. I want this, and I don’t want that.” There’s so much mental unrest. Concentration is the antidote. Developing the concentrated state of mind that’s free of all that chatter.
There are five kinds of basic forms of chatter, five hindrances that disturb our concentration. The first one is having a lot of sensual desire. This is analogous to the previous thing when I mentioned coveting. It’s the mind that’s always thinking, “How can I get pleasure? How can I get pleasure?” The mind is always looking around. “I want to see something beautiful. I want to smell something nice. I want to hear good music. I want to taste good food.” The mind is always looking outside for happiness. As long as we’re looking outside for happiness, we are setting ourselves up for mental distraction. We struggle for happiness. We run around all day trying to get all the things that we think are going to make us happy. We have so many problems trying to get them. We get them, and then very seldom are they as good as we thought they were going to be. Even if we get them, they bring along a whole bunch of problems with them.
This mind that’s looking outwards for happiness is actually quite unsatisfactory. It breeds a lot of dissatisfaction, always looking externally with our senses for some kind of pleasure. This isn’t saying that pleasure is bad, but what I’m saying is this attachment to it brings so much distress in our own mind. It’s an interesting thing to observe sometimes, how before we do something, we get all hyped up in our own mind, “Oh, this is going to be so great. I’m going to go on vacation, on and on and on and on.” Then how often is something as good as we thought it was going to be? They even do studies about this. When I was in Boston last spring, and I met Dan Gilbert, a professor at Harvard. He just wrote a book. I can’t remember the title of it. One of you may. It’s something about happiness. He’s a psychologist, so he’s done all this research about happiness. What he’s found is that we human beings are very poor at predicting the amount of happiness we’re going to get from something. He’s done all these studies and asked people before a certain situation, how happy they thought they’d be if it happens. Then after it happens, ask them how happy they actually are. He found that we chronically overestimate the amount of happiness that we’re going to have from something. Isn’t that interesting? It’s just fascinating.
This causes a lot of unease in our mind because the mind’s always grasping at external things, and of course we never get as much happiness as we want or as we think we should have. When we’re able to subdue or lessen that central desire, what we actually have is much more internal peace. Our society nowadays is really geared towards convincing us that we don’t have enough and that we aren’t good enough and that we don’t do enough, and if we only got such and such product, then we would be happy. We’ve all heard this before and we all think, “Oh well, I understand all about advertising, and I don’t fall for all those things.” If none of us fell for it, why would they keep doing it? Yes, we fall for it big time. “If only I had this I’d be happy. If only I had that I’d be happy.” The mind is always involved in so many plans, how to choreograph everything in our life so it goes the way we want. Are we ever successful? No. Giving up that clinging, grasping mind, clinging for pleasure from external things, actually that creates much more internal peace because then whatever we have, we’re satisfied with it. The satisfaction doesn’t depend on what we have. Satisfaction’s a state of mind. You meet some people who are quite rich, very unsatisfied. You meet people who are very poor, they have a lot of internal satisfaction. Just something to think about here.
Another hindrance that we want to abandon in our training in concentration in developmental peace is ill will—the mind that is always thinking of how to get even. The mind that sits and ruminates about what somebody said to us or what somebody did to us or how much we don’t like x, y, and z. How many of you are ruminators? I didn’t say terminators. I said ruminators. I’m a ruminator. I have a few compatriots there. The way I ruminate is there’s some small thing that somebody said or did or whatever or even some big thing. I pick it out, and then I go round in circles. “What did that person mean? How should I interpret that? How could they really mean that? I bet it’s because of this. I bet it’s because of that. Their real meaning is this.” Then we get into this whole thing. We diagnose people all the time. “Oh, that person is passive aggressive, and that one’s borderline, and this person, I know they said this to me because they’re bipolar.” We are, what do you call it, armchair psychologists. We throw out our own little diagnosis. It has nothing to do with reality. But when we ruminate, we’re trying so hard to understand all these things, and then, of course, when we understand them, and, “That person is really doing something really awful. I’m sure they have a horrible intention towards me.” Then we ruminate about how to prevent them from doing it some more and how to get even.
It’s funny, sometimes when I teach meditation, people always go, “I can’t concentrate. My mind’s all over the place. I can’t watch the breath. I can’t stay with one object.” I say, “When you’re mad at somebody, do you get distracted?” Think about it. All of us ruminators. We’re pretty concentrated, aren’t we? We can sit and ruminate all day long. “They did this, and they did that, and that person did that, that person did that. They’re probably working together. [laughter] There’s certainly a conspiracy going on here. I know it’s been going on for years.” We write our own little script. Maybe if we take a creative writing class, we don’t know what to write about, but in our ruminating mind we write all sorts of novels. Any of you internal novel writers? Who’s the chief character in your novel? Me. Isn’t it? We write all these dramas about me and these horror stories about me. Once in a while a comedy, but not too often.
We ruminate, and we develop all sorts of ill will, and then we wonder why we’re unhappy and miserable. You can make yourself unhappy and miserable in the comfort of your own home. You don’t even need the nasty person in front of you to make yourself miserable. Think about it. When we’re ruminating and making up all our dramas and horror stories, that person’s not in front of us at the time, are they? No. They maybe made one comment. They’re off doing whatever they do during the day. We don’t need them to make ourselves miserable. We can sit there and do it and ruminate and make up all these horrid, paranoid stories all by ourselves. It has nothing to do with them. We always say, “You made me mad.” Huh? Somebody else made us mad? We make ourselves mad. We can get mad all by ourselves, can’t we? Anybody who’s meditated even a short period of time realizes that because you can sit there in a perfect meditation position, you know how we are, and inside, “Fifteen years ago my brother called me a name, ooh, horrible child.” Then you will say a mantra. I don’t know, maybe most of you are Zen practitioners and you don’t do mantra. We Tibetans, we do om mani padme hum, om mani padme hum. Mantra of compassion. “My brother, ooh, I’ve got to talk to him about this. I know what to say. Oh, this is going to get him good.” [laughter] That’s what we do, and then at the end of our meditation session, we dedicate [inaudible] that we created. “’May all beings be happy.’ [inaudible] except my brother.”
You see, this is all just coming from our own mind, isn’t it? Who knows where her brother is or what he’s doing. He has nothing to do with how miserable we are at that moment. It’s our own angry mind. Our own mind of ill will. What we need to do is practice patience, practice loving compassion. Press the pause button on our drama videos. Better yet, press the stop button or throw the video away. Some of our own internal videos we’ve run so many times haven’t we? We know the conclusion already.
How many of you have the poor me video? How many of you have more than one version of the poor me video? Maybe we have a whole video library, and there’s a series you know, a classic series. Poor me. We run these videos from time to time. “Poor me. Nobody loves me. It all started out when I was two months old.” We go through the poor me video, nobody loves me, and we know the conclusion already, don’t we? But we play it again. Or the poor me video, “I’m so stupid.” We know that conclusion, but we play it again. We just make ourselves pretty miserable.
I just led a retreat at the beginning of the month, and people tend, when they do retreats, to ruminate, and all these videos come up in their meditation. You’re supposed to be focusing on the breath or saying om mani padme hum or generating loving kindness or something like that, but instead they are running videos. Poor-me videos and so on are coming up. What I had them do is, everybody had to write down their big problem, their chief video that was going on in their mind that was disturbing their meditation. Everybody had to write it down, and then they all folded their piece of paper up and put it in a basket. We shuffled them around, and then everybody had to pick out a new problem, and in your meditation, whenever you were starting to get distracted, you had to ruminate about the other person’s problem. You had to play the video of the other person’s problem. It was fascinating. It was so interesting what happens to the meditators when they can no longer do their own problem, and you have to meditate on somebody else’s problem. Pretty boring, isn’t it? Think about it. If you had to ruminate about somebody else’s problem, their problems are so boring. Your friend comes and tells you their problem, and the first time, it’s kind of interesting, but when they tell you the second time and the third time and the fourth time. It’s like their problem is so boring, but our problem, our videos, not boring at all. We can play them again and again. It’s really kind of silly, isn’t it, how our mind works?
Ill will is a big obstacle to let go of, and one of the primary ways is just to see how silly it is and how much it damages our own sense of happiness. It has nothing to do with reality. Ill will.
The third hindrance that we want to abandon is regret and worry. How many of you are worriers? A lot of you. Wow. We sit and worry and worry about things that haven’t happened. You can’t worry about something that has happened because it’s happened so… But the future hasn’t happened, so we concentrate our creative writing stories in worrying about the future and everything that can possibly go wrong. Pretty boring isn’t it, when you think about it? Just such a total waste of time. Shantideva the great Indian sage said, “If you can do something about a situation, do it. Don’t worry. If there’s nothing you can do about it, don’t worry. Worry is useless.” Think about it a little bit when your mind gets stuck in worry, how totally frivolous worry is. It doesn’t do anything good. Well, maybe it supports the economy because you make yourself such a nervous wreck that you have to go out and buy some medication to calm yourself down. The pharmaceutical companies like it. Beside benefitting the pharmaceutical company, does it do any good? Doesn’t help at all. Let go of worry. It hasn’t happened yet, so why worry about it?
The other part of that one is regret. Worry is looking towards the future and having anxiety. Regret or remorse, or better yet, guilt, is looking towards the past. Guilt is another one of our very useful emotions, useless, excuse me, useless. Oops. [laughter] We have this funny kind of internal psychological thing that thinks that, “The worse I feel about something, the more I atone for my mistake.” Do you have that kind of strange logic in your mind? The guiltier I feel, the more I’m somehow atoning for the awful thing I did. Is that true or not true? Does feeling lousy yourself, beating up on yourself, solve the difficulty? No, it doesn’t do anything, does it except make ourselves more miserable and make us very, very stuck? What Buddhism recommends instead is to recognize our mistake, understand how our mind was working that we acted in that way, apply the antidote to whatever was afflicting our mind, whatever disturbing attitude or disturbing emotion was bothering our mind that motivated us to act in the way that we regret, and then to make some determination to stop doing it and instead to generate a sense of kindness or at least forgiveness towards whoever it was that we harmed instead of sitting there feeling guilt. Because guilt is just another one of our self-centered videos, isn’t it? “I’m so terrible. I’m so lousy. I did such and such. I’m so terrible. I’m so lousy. I did such and such.” We say it over and over and over again. It’s really rather boring. I think rather than guilt, let’s just acknowledge our mistakes, try and develop a plan so we don’t do the same thing again and develop a heart of love and compassion and then do something constructive instead. Letting go of worry about the future and regret about the past.
Then the fourth one is doubt. The fourth hindrance of mental peace is doubt. That’s the mind that gets stuck. “Should I do this or should I do that?” Do you have a mind that has a hard time making decisions? “Should I have apple juice or should I have orange juice? How can I get the most pleasure? What’s going to bring me more pleasure? Apple juice or orange juice? I don’t know.” From the time we’re very little, we start developing this kind of indecision as we’re trying to figure out what’s going to bring us the most happiness. It’s actually much easier just to have contentment, and whatever we have, that’s fine, instead of struggling with happiness.
The doubt can be indecision. It can also be doubt in a spiritual way. If we’re trying to do a spiritual practice, doubting it, “Is this practice really going to work or is it not going to work? Am I doing it right or am I not doing it right? Can I do it or am I just totally an imbecile? What kind of results am I going to get or maybe I won’t get any results?” We get very tangled up in doubt, and this can turn into kind of a skeptical mind that also isn’t very useful. When our mind starts getting skeptical and full of doubt like that, again it’s time to recognize that’s what’s going on in our mind and catch it and then just release it. Recognize that that way of thinking is not beneficial and just let it go.
If we have some doubts about something that’s important or if we’re sincerely curious about a spiritual matter, then we should definitely ask questions or investigate. This willingness to want to learn and to clarify in our own mind, that’s very different from doubt. Doubt is this mind they call, “the doubting mind is like trying to sew with a needle with two points.” What happens when you try and take a stitch with a needle with two points? It gets stuck constantly. The doubting mind, the skeptical mind, is just a stuck mind. A mind that has curiosity, that has interest, that wants to understand something along the spiritual path, that’s a very useful mind because that will inspire us to learn. That’s the fourth hindrance.
The fifth hindrance, do you know that one? You’re trying to do something useful, you’re trying to meditate, what happens? Do you know that one? So, sloth and torpor. It’s the very dull mind that falls asleep. It can also be the mind that is just lazy, you know? “I don’t feel like doing anything useful now. I’ll do it later.” We’re trying to meditate. We’re trying to develop a concentrated mind. We’re trying to develop our good qualities. We’re trying to use our energy in a good direction. What is ego mind doing, it throws in the wrench of falling asleep. Anyone have that happen when you’re trying to meditate? We’re out. Of course if the phone rings and it’s our friend, we’re wide awake, and we can gossip for the next hour. Or if there’s a good TV program on, we can watch it, but if we’re trying to do something useful with our mind, sometimes our mind distracts us by having a lot of sloth and torpor come up. It’s good just to notice that when that’s happening, and if you need to get up and get some exercise, or if you’re meditating, keep your eyes a little bit open, be sure you’re sitting up straight to dispel the sloth and torpor so you can remain focused.
These are the five hindrances. A lot of greed, attachment, insubstantial pleasure, ill will, regret and worry, doubt, and sloth and torpor. Those five we want to abandon, and when we are able to abandon those, then the mind is able to concentrate single-pointedly on any wholesome object that we focus on. When the mind can focus on a wholesome object, let’s say you’re doing meditation on loving kindness or meditation on compassion or meditation on forgiveness or meditation on the nature of reality, we can focus the mind, and the mind is very, very still. The concentrated mind is a very still and useful mind. Here I’m talking about meditative concentration. I’m not talking about when we’re concentrating on doing our homework. There are different kinds of concentration.
When we let go of these five hindrances, we can develop a peaceful mind inside, and that kind of peaceful mind is very useful because that means wherever we go, whoever we’re with, our mind is peaceful. Nice, huh?
That’s the second kind of peace, that calm mind that isn’t with a lot of negative thoughts and things like that. But developing concentration subdues this mental chatter and these negative thoughts. It subdues them, but it doesn’t eradicate them from the mindstream altogether. To attain the deepest state of peace, the peace that comes from having eliminated the disturbing attitudes and negative emotions from their core, from their root, so that there’s no possibility that they ever emerge again in the mind. That kind of peace is a very, very deep kind of peace. In Buddhist terminology, that’s what we call nirvana, the state of mind in which all these disturbing attitudes and negative emotions have been uprooted, and they can never appear in the mind again. What this means is that we are not inherently selfish, we are not inherently angry, we are not inherently greedy. A lot of these attributes that we feel are just part of us and there’s nothing to do about them, there is something to do about them because they are not who we are. They are not part of our basic nature. They can be eliminated. Their having been eliminated is the state of nirvana.
Just think about that for a moment. What would it feel like to never get angry again? No matter what name somebody called you. No matter how many times they cut you off on the highway. No matter what your marital situation was or what your situation with your teenager is. We don’t get angry. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? I think that would be absolutly outstanding, no matter what somebody did, the mind is totally blissful. Not repressing anger because there’s no anger there to repress. To think that we have that possibility, we have that potential within us right now to develop that state of mind that is free of anger. Or that state of mind that is free of dissatisfaction, craving, wanting more, wanting better. The mind is totally free from those things, again, not because we’re suppressing them or repressing them, but because we’ve uprooted them from our minds through the higher training of wisdom.
The higher training of wisdom is about understanding the nature of reality. When we understand how things actually exist or how they don’t exist, all the false projections that we put on them. When we understand that and eliminate that mind, that ignorance, that projecting out all these false modes of existence. We can eliminate that by seeing how things actually are. Then when our ignorance is uprooted, the craving, the hostility, the jealousy and pride, all those things which are built upon the foundation of ignorance also crumble. They can’t continue to grow when their foundation has been destroyed. It’s like a tree, one branch is craving and one branch is hostility and one branch is jealousy and so on like this. If you uproot the whole tree, all those things cease.
The root of the tree of our own mental imprisonment is ignorance, the mind that misapprehends how things exist. Whereas things are actually dependent, the ignorant mind sees things as having their own independent, inherent nature. We’re so used to our own ignorant view that we don’t even realize we have it. We think it’s reality. This is why the understanding of what emptiness is—emptiness being the lack of all of the fantasized modes of existence we’ve projected outward and on ourselves—when we correctly understand emptiness through this higher training of wisdom, then there’s no opportunity for ignorance to be in the mind at the same time as the wisdom is manifest. Ignorance sees something that doesn’t exist, and wisdom knows that that doesn’t exist. The anger has to get eliminated when the wisdom is manifest in the mind. The more we practice and train our mind in wisdom, the weaker the ignorance gets until one day even the seed of the ignorance is completely removed from the mindstream. At that time all these other afflicted mental states cease too, and that’s what we call the state of nirvana. That’s a lasting kind of peace.
That’s just a little bit about creating peace. Starting with the external, using the higher training of ethics, ethical conduct, to make our relationships peaceful. Using the higher training of concentration to free our mind from ill will and doubt and worry and so forth. Then using the higher training of wisdom to uproot the source of all the afflicted mental states to obtain a lasting state of peace, nirvana.
Questions and answers
- Examples of the higher training of wisdom
- About the practice in Sravasti Abbey
- Alternatives to responding with anger
Three kinds of peace: Q&A (download)
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.