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With our thoughts we make the world

Man walking through forest.
Even the Buddha, the Awakened One, wasn’t able to change the world. So, how was I, the Confused One, going to come close? (Photo © olandsfokus /

Lately, I have been walking around in a state of confusion and unease. Like many of my fellow countrymen I have succumbed to an overwhelming malaise. I view the evening news and see so much pain and suffering in the world. Violence and fundamentalism appears to be on the rise. Within our own country there is so much polarization. Honesty, integrity and empathy are in short supply in our nation’s capital. Hypocrisy appears to be the new normal. As a Buddhist I can certainly explain all this, at least intellectually. I know all about self-centeredness and self-grasping ignorance. I have been well schooled in karma, impermanence and emptiness. I know this is the nature of samsara. So what should I expect? Nevertheless, I seem to have gotten myself into a royal funk. Obviously, the teachings haven’t yet sunk in to my very core.

I was walking in the forest the other day. I seem to do my best thinking when I am out in nature. It occurred to me that I was trying to change the world all by myself. How prideful and arrogant is that? Even the Buddha, the Awakened One, wasn’t able to change the world. So, how was I, the Confused One, going to come close? This funk was of my own making. It was time for a reality check.

Amongst the trees and sounds of nature I recalled a recent teaching. “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” I had a mini-awakening. I was creating a lot of suffering for myself with all these negative thoughts. I was viewing the world through a lens of negativity and pessimism. I was trying to control the uncontrollable. My world is not out there. It is entirely within me. So, if I want to be happy I need to concentrate on how I respond to the events around me. In other words, I need to change the story I tell myself. The old cup half full versus half empty metaphor. I need to find the good where there is good and have a realistic perspective on all the rest.

Now my greatest fear is that I will start to withdraw too much and become apathetic to all the suffering around me. That is where the middle way and bodhicitta become important. Even though I cannot personally control the actions of others, I can work on my own actions of body, speech and mind, and with humility and skill try to set a good example for others and to influence them in a positive way. After all, that’s what the Buddha did. He didn’t change the world, but he was able to transform his own mind and become a guiding light for the rest of us.

Kenneth Mondal

Ken Mondal is a retired Ophthalmologist who lives in Spokane, Washington. He received his education at Temple University and University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and residency training at University of California-San Francisco. He practiced in Ohio, Washington and Hawaii. Ken met the Dharma in 2011 and attends teachings and retreats on a regular basis at Sravasti Abbey. He also loves to do volunteer work in the Abbey's beautiful forest.

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