What We Believe - Happiness from a Different Source
The following is the introductory chapter “Inner Peace” from the book Transform Your Life by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
All living beings have the same basic wish to be happy and avoid suffering, but very few people understand the real causes of happiness and suffering. We generally believe that external conditions such as food, friends, cars, and money are the real causes of happiness, and as a result we devote nearly all our time and energy to acquiring these. Superficially it seems that these things can make us happy, but if we look more deeply we will see that they also bring us a lot of suffering and problems.
Happiness and suffering are opposites, so if something is a real cause of happiness it cannot give rise to suffering. If food, money, and so forth are really causes of happiness, they can never be causes of suffering; but we know from our own experience that they often do cause suffering. For example, one of our main interests is food, but the food we eat is also the principal cause of most of our ill health and sickness. In the process of producing the things we feel will make us happy, we have polluted our environment to such an extent that the very air we breathe and the water we drink now threaten our health and well-being. We love the freedom and independence a car can give us, but the cost in accidents and environmental destruction is enormous. We feel that money is essential for us to enjoy life, but the pursuit of money also causes immense problems and anxiety. Even our family and friends, with whom we enjoy so many happy moments, can also bring us a lot of worry and heartache.
In recent years our understanding and control of the external world have increased considerably, and as a result we have witnessed remarkable material progress, but there has not been a corresponding increase in human happiness. There is no less suffering in the world today and there are no fewer problems. It could even be said that there are now more problems and greater unhappiness than ever before. This shows that the solution to our problems, and to those of society as a whole, does not lie in knowledge or control of the external world.
Why is this? Happiness and suffering are states of mind, and so their main causes cannot be found outside the mind. The real source of happiness is inner peace. If our mind is peaceful, we will be happy all the time, regardless of external conditions, but if it is disturbed or troubled in any way, we will never be happy, no matter how good our external conditions may be. External conditions can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful. We can understand this through our own experience. For instance, even if we are in the most beautiful surroundings and have everything we need, the moment we get angry any happiness we may have disappears. This is because anger has destroyed our inner peace.
We can see from this that if we want true, lasting happiness we need to develop and maintain a special experience of inner peace. The only way to do this is by training our mind through spiritual practice—gradually reducing and eliminating our negative, disturbed states of mind and replacing them with positive, peaceful states. Eventually, through continuing to improve our inner peace we will experience permanent inner peace, or nirvana. Once we have attained nirvana we will be happy throughout our life, and in life after life. We will have solved all our problems and accomplished the true meaning of our human life.
Since we all have within us our own source of peace and happiness, we may wonder why it is so hard to maintain a continually peaceful and joyful mind. This is because of the delusions that so often crowd our mind. 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 deluded mind of hatred, 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 craving to eat chocolate, chocolate appears to be intrinsically desirable. However, once we have eaten too much of it and start to feel sick, it no longer seems so desirable and may even appear repulsive. This shows that in itself chocolate is neither desirable nor repulsive. It is the deluded mind of attachment that projects all kinds of pleasurable qualities onto its objects of desire and then relates to them as if they really did possess those qualities.
All delusions function like this, projecting onto the world their own distorted version of reality and then relating to this projection as if it were true. When our mind is under the influence of delusions, we are out of touch with 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 our lives are so often filled with frustration. It is as if we are continually chasing mirages, only to be disappointed when they do not give us the satisfaction we had hoped for.
When things go wrong in our life and we encounter difficult situations, we tend to regard the situation itself as the problem, but in reality whatever problems we experience come from the mind. If we responded to difficulties with a positive or peaceful mind, they would not be problems for us. Eventually we might even regard them as challenges or opportunities for growth and development. Problems arise only if we respond to situations with a negative state of mind. Therefore if we want to transform our life and be free from problems, we must learn to transform our mind. Sufferings, problems, worries, unhappiness, and pain all exist within our mind—they are all unpleasant feelings, which are part of the mind. Through controlling and purifying our mind we can stop them once and for all.
To understand this fully, we need to understand the relationship between the mind and external objects. All objects, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, are mere appearances to the mind, just like things experienced in a dream. This is not easy to understand at first, but we can gain some understanding by thinking about the following. When we are awake many different things exist, but when we fall asleep they cease. This is because the mind to which they appear ceases. When we dream, the only things that appear are dream objects. Later, when we wake up, these dream objects cease. This is because the dreaming mind to which they appear ceases. If we think deeply about this, we will understand how we can cause all the unpleasant things that we dislike to cease simply by abandoning impure, deluded states of mind, and we can cause all the pleasant things that we desire to arise simply by developing a pure mind. Purifying our mind of delusions through spiritual practice fulfills our deepest longing for true, lasting happiness.
We should understand that although delusions are deeply ingrained, they are not an intrinsic part of our mind and so they can definitely be removed. Delusions are just bad mental habits, and like all habits they can be broken. At the moment our mind is like muddy water, murky and polluted by delusions. However, just as it is possible to separate mud from water, so it is possible to purify the mind of all delusions. With no delusions remaining in our mind, there is nothing that can disturb our inner peace and joy.
Since time without beginning we have been under the control of our mind, like a puppet on a string. We are like a servant working for our mind—whenever our mind wants to do something, we have to do it without any choice. Sometimes our mind is like a crazy elephant, creating so many problems and dangers for ourself and others. By sincerely engaging in spiritual practice we can reverse this situation and gain mastery over our mind. Transforming our mind in this way, we will finally enjoy real freedom.
For our spiritual practice to be successful, we need the blessings and inspiration of those who have already gained deep inner realizations, but we also need to give ourself constant encouragement. If we cannot encourage ourself, how can we expect anyone else to? When we understand clearly that inner peace is the real source of happiness, and how through spiritual practice we can experience progressively deeper levels of inner peace, we will develop tremendous enthusiasm to practice. This is very important because to attain the permanent inner peace of nirvana we need to engage in spiritual practice sincerely and diligently.
This does not mean that we ignore external conditions. We need inner peace, but we also need good physical health, and for this we need certain external conditions such as food and a comfortable environment to live in. There are many people who concentrate exclusively on developing the material side of their life, while completely ignoring spiritual practice. This is one extreme. However, there are other people who concentrate exclusively on spiritual practice, while ignoring the material conditions that are necessary for supporting a healthy human life. This is another extreme. We need to maintain a middle way that avoids both extremes of materialism and spirituality.
Some people believe that those who strive to attain nirvana are being selfish because they seem to be concentrating only on their own inner peace, but this belief is incorrect. Our real purpose in attaining the permanent inner peace of nirvana is to help others do the same. Just as the only way to solve our own problems is to find inner peace, so the only way to help others to solve theirs is to encourage them to engage in spiritual practice and discover their own inner peace. This way of benefiting others is by far the best. Yet we can do this effectively only if we first work on our own mind. There is little benefit in telling people how important it is to overcome their delusions if we are unable to control our own. However, if through training our mind we succeed in pacifying—or even completely eliminating—our own anger, for example, we can certainly help others control theirs. Then our advice will not be mere words, but will have behind it the power of personal experience.
We can sometimes help others by providing them with money or better material conditions, but we should remember that the greatest benefit we can give is to help them overcome their delusions and find true, lasting happiness within. Through technological progress and by organizing society in fairer, more humane ways, we can certainly help improve people’s lives in some respects. But whatever we do will inevitably have some unwanted side effects. The best we can hope for is to provide people with conditions that bring some temporary relief from problems and difficulties, but we cannot give them true, lasting happiness. This is because the real cause of happiness is inner peace, which can be found only within the mind, not in external conditions.
Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible. We all wish for world peace, but world peace will never be achieved unless we first establish peace within our own minds. We can send so-called “peacekeeping forces” into areas of conflict, but peace cannot be imposed from the outside with guns. Only by creating peace within our own mind and helping others do the same can we hope to achieve peace in this world.
This book presents many profound methods of spiritual training, all of which are practical ways to purify and control our mind. If we put these methods into practice we will definitely gain a special experience of mental peace. By continuing to improve this experience, deluded states of mind will gradually diminish and our inner peace will grow. Eventually, by abandoning delusions altogether, we will attain the permanent inner peace of nirvana. Having overcome our own delusions, such as anger, attachment, and ignorance, and developed profound spiritual realizations of universal love, compassion, concentration, and wisdom, our ability to help others will be far greater. In this way we can help others solve their problems not just for a few days or a few years, but forever. We can help them find an inner peace and joy that nothing, not even death, can destroy. How wonderful!