Everyone has a mind, however, very few of us possess a deep understanding of the nature and functions of the mind. For example, if we have not studied and trained in Buddha’s teachings we probably know next to nothing about the different types of mind, how they are generated, and what effect they have on our lives. Therefore, it is difficult to distinguish virtuous minds from non-virtuous minds, and we are clueless about how to cultivate the former and abandon the latter. Why is it necessary to understand our mind? The answer is simple and logical. Happiness and suffering are states of mind, and so if we want to be free from suffering and enjoy true happiness we need to possess a thorough understanding of the mind and how to control it. There is no other way that we can we definitely improve the quality of our life, both now and in the future.
In recent years our knowledge and control of the external world have increased considerably and as a result we have witnessed extraordinary material development; but the resultant effect has not been an increase in human happiness. Suffering around the world has not decreased, and there are no fewer problems. On the contrary, it could be said that there are now greater problems and more unhappiness than ever before. Therefore, we can see clearly that the cause of happiness and the solution to our problems will never be found by increasing our knowledge or control of the external world. Happiness and suffering only exist within the mind and so their origins are not to be found outside the mind. If we want to find lasting happiness and freedom from suffering we must improve our understanding of the mind.
When things don’t go our way or we experience difficulties in life our normal reaction is to regard the situation itself as the problem, but in reality whatever problems we experience arise from within the mind. If we were to respond to life’s difficulties with a positive or peaceful mind they would not be problems for us; indeed we may even come to regard them as challenges or opportunities for spiritual growth. Problems arise only if we react to difficult situations with a negative state of mind. Therefore, if we want to be free from problems we must gain control of our mind.
The Source of Our Problems
Since we all have within us unlimited potential for peace and happiness, we may wonder why it is so hard to maintain a continually happy and peaceful mind. This is because of the delusions that fill our mind and disturb our inner peace. Delusions are distorted ways of looking at ourself, other people, and the world around us – like a distorted mirror they reflect a distorted world. The delusion of anger, for example, views other people as intrinsically bad, but there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad person. Desirous attachment, on the other hand, sees its object of desire as intrinsically good and as a true source of happiness. If we have a strong desire to eat ice cream, ice cream appears to be intrinsically desirable. However, once we have overeaten and start to feel sick, it no longer seems so delicious and may even appear disgusting. This shows that in itself ice cream is neither delicious nor disgusting. It is the deluded mind of attachment that projects all kinds of desirable qualities onto its objects and then relates to them as if those qualities come from the object itself.
All delusions function in this way, projecting onto the world their own distorted version of reality and then relating to this projection as if it were true. When our delusions are arising within our mind we have lost our grip on reality and are not seeing things as they really are. Since our mind is under the control of at least subtle forms of delusion all the time, it is not surprising that we constantly experience stress, anxiety and confusion. It is as if we are continually chasing mirages, only to be disappointed when they do not fulfill our desires.