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Verse 24: Our noisy minds

Verse 24: Our noisy minds

Part of a series of talks on Gems of Wisdom, a poem by the Seventh Dalai Lama.

  • The afflictions follow us even into a quiet place or retreat
  • Take care of the necessities, but don’t obsess over every detail

Gems of Wisdom: Verse 24 (download)

The next verse says, “Who is troubled with a noisy mind even though living in a quiet place?”

[Laughter] Me!

“The one dwelling in solitary retreat who engages in ways unbecoming to the wise.”

Who is troubled with a noisy mind even though living in a quiet place?
The one dwelling in solitary retreat who engages in ways unbecoming to the wise.

So, you go off to retreat, you’re dwelling in solitary retreat or, in our case, we’re dwelling in a monastery, but we’re troubled with a noisy mind even though we live in a quiet place because we’re engaging in ways unbecoming to the wise.

What are “ways unbecoming to the wise”? All of our afflictions. Craving praise, or sensual pleasure, material gain. The eight worldly concerns, yes? So it gives us quite a noisy mind. Always wanting this, this, this. How can I get that, that, that, that? And so even though we have a really good opportunity for practice, keeping the mind very busy on things beyond practice.

Or, if you’re in retreat, you know, you go to a solitary place to do retreat, and then you’re on email and you’re doing this and that, writing letters…. I mean, this verse was written centuries before email, but you can still see, people would go on solitary retreat, then their friends and relatives would come to the cave, or they would go down to the village to get supplies very frequently.

Or even if they didn’t, you know, you’re in retreat but your mind completely down in town, down with everybody else. You know, “What do they think about me? Do they know what a good meditator I am? I wonder what my family is doing? I wonder what my friends are doing? Oh, they’re probably doing this and that, oh yes, I remember doing that…. We had such a good time. What am I doing here in retreat? They must be missing me! So, for the benefit of sentient beings I’d better break my retreat and then go be with these people who miss me so terribly….” Or, “There’s this really important activity I really need to do, so I’ll just break my retreat, do the activity, and then come back….”

You know, our usual excuse book. How we find so many things to make our mind noisy and make our life noisy even though we have very good opportunity for practice.

In our case—with the building of Chenrezig Hall—we keep our minds shopping online, you know? We got over the beds, and how much time have we spent looking for bed frames and the right kind of bed frames. And what kind of mattresses? “This person sells this mattress, this person sells that mattress. Do they charge tax online?”

So we got over that and we got all the beds, and now we’re on the chairs! And the dining room table…. “What kind of chairs? How high are the chairs? And what color chairs? What kind of fabric for the chairs?” I notice you have the samples and we went and chose them already. [laughter] But I’m sure you’ve spent some time thinking about what kind of fabric for the chairs in here. And I actually have another idea for some things. [laughter]

But we have to furnish Chenrezig Hall, right? Sure, okay, the mind’s a little bit noisy. It’ll get quieter, you know … maybe…. [laughter] Until we build the next building.

So sometimes you are in retreat—or you are doing study—and of course you have to take care of things that have to be taken care of. But the idea not to let your mind obsess about them, and not to create more work for yourself than you have to.

You’ve got to file your taxes or you have to go for jury duty, or whatever it is. Although you can try and get out…. You know, you have to fix things. But you know, to not create extra work and extra plans and extra projects that aren’t really necessary for our life here.

And maybe the mind will quiet down and we can really live in a quiet place.

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.