A great technique to make our mind peaceful and strong is to read Venerable Geshe-la’s books in an active manner. This means slowing down and reading with a special focus on particular terms, words and phrases, in the text. Since we have recently finished the chapter, ‘The Pre-Eminent Qualities of the Instructions,’ in The New Eight Steps to Happiness, we will consider two quotes from this chapter to illustrate how to read in this active way. The first quote is as follows
‘… this teaching shows us how to transform adverse conditions into the spiritual path…’ pg. 21
Let’s read slowly, but actively, and break this down.
If you were asked – ‘what is the spiritual path?’ Or ‘what is spirituality?’ Or ‘is spirituality relevant to modern life?’ What would your answer be? Many people dismiss spirituality relegating it to the time humans where primitive. While others claim to be spiritual, but are not entirely sure what this actually means. In Buddhism we think that every person has potential for two attitudes:
- Self-centred ignorance – which is very painful and damaging
- Unconditional kindness – which is very beautiful and beneficial
Spirituality is the acknowledgment that we have these two attitudes and dedicating our whole life to giving up the first and cultivate the second. When we do this, we are on a spiritual path.
Do bad things ever happen to you? If yes then you know what adverse conditions are. Now – if you were to text a friend with one emoji to describe adversity- which would you choose – sad or smiley face? When we experience adversity we usually allow our self-centred ignorance, the sad and angry emojis, to take over, causing more pain and more problems.
Transform means, taking the adversities which ordinarily cause us to send sad and angry emojis to the world, and use them instead to improve our kindness. It is a challenge to our self; can I view this situation in a way that will improve my kindness? If we can do this, we find that our mind becomes stronger and more peaceful. We become a nicer person as well! Looking at the world today, we can say that there are many adversities to which, unfortunately, we respond with self-centred attitudes. This causes our distracting thoughts only to increase, reduces our attention span and causes us to be less and less kind; the world becomes less safe and we become less happy. So it is clear why we need to train in transforming adverse conditions to the spiritual path.
This leads us to the second quote from The New 8 Steps to Happiness:
‘We are so used to being stimulated from the outside that we find it difficult to be quiet and enjoy the stillness of our own mind.’ pg 24
Whenever we transform adversities, helping ourselves to become a kinder person, a side effect is not only a more peaceful mind, but the ability to enjoy it. Imagine being able to take pleasure in your own peaceful existence without needing anything else. Sitting in a park looking at the sky; walking down the main street in your town; going to work; even encountering disappointments and frustrations, with a nice peaceful mind.
Imagine not needing anything other than you own peace of mind.
Now ask yourself – when did I last have a peace of mind? What am I willing to do to attain it? Even if we only study and practice the smallest fragments from this text we can achieve the great enjoyment of peace of mind. Active reading of Geshe-la’s texts is a very powerful way to strengthen your mind.
From next week we are going to look at the actual instructions. How lucky we are to have the freedom and opportunity to read, understand and practice these teachings!