Science has confirmed many of the discoveries of the human mind that Buddhism has taught for over 2500 years. The potential solutions available to us through this knowledge are vast as the human mind can seem complex when studied as untrained and conditioned minds most of us end up with by the time we reach adulthood. Drawing on personal experience and my understanding of the Dharma, or the teachings of Buddhism, here is a short list on to illuminate the incredible wisdom that can help us get through any circumstance if we are willing to apply what we have learned.
1) The feeling that something is missing inside us
This particular feeling is a feature of pretty much every human being on planet Earth. This is what drives us to seek relationships and sometimes stay in relationships that aren’t good for us. If you look around you can see pretty much everyone is going through it at one time or another. Our minds cause us to perceive that everything is separate including everything inside of us. So, we perceive that we “own” our significant other is “ours” or we want someone to “be mine.” The Atlantic published a marvelous interview on this where they reported:
Not so, says Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.
On the other side are quantum physicists, marveling at the strange fact that quantum systems don’t seem to be definite objects localized in space until we come along to observe them. Experiment after experiment has shown-defying common sense-that if we assume that the particles that make up ordinary objects have an objective, observer-independent existence, we get the wrong answers. The central lesson of quantum physics is clear: There are no public objects sitting out there in some preexisting space. As the physicist John Wheeler put it, “Useful as it is under ordinary circumstances to say that the world exists ‘out there’ independent of us, that view can no longer be upheld.”
So, within all this perceiving we constantly feel like everything is separate and the feeling that we are not whole is the illusion of the separate self. Buddhism teaches us that in meditation we will soon see the truth that we are part of one big whole organism that is constantly changing. Once we begin to have this realization we begin to relax and understand that we don’t have to go out there and chase what we felt is missing inside of us. If we do the inner work and train our minds through meditation our behavior will naturally just do whatever the most important things are for us to do and the rest begins to fall into place. The best part is that the relationships we do have will be created out of a sense of wholeness not a sense of obligation or neediness. This also eradicates loneliness.
2) Changing bad habits
Humans are habit making creatures. It is this feature that allows us to be efficient and learn skills. This same element of our minds that makes it possible us to be efficient is the same thing that also allows us to develop bad habits. Bad habits usually start out because we are getting some kind of reward then before we know it we can’t stop. All is not lost, though, and science has shown that the best way to stop a bad habit is to replace it with a new one. But, the pull back to the old habit is very powerful so the way to counter this force is through habit stacking. And the best habit to stack is meditation.
Habit stacking is basically adding a new habit on top of one you already have like brushing teeth/flossing. I started my meditation practice by stacking after my morning tea. It’s automatic now. Adding meditation to our daily routine will allow us to finally have awareness about what we are actually doing. OK, that’s great but what about that reward we were getting from our bad habit? That a pretty strong force that pulls us back. Well, mindfulness as a result of meditation makes us curious and curiosity is a natural human inclination that gives us a positive reward!
3) Anxiety, Fear, Anger, Dissatisfaction
We all experience anxiety from time to time, some people more than others. I can’t remember the last time I experienced anxiety. I was even assaulted by a neighbor in from of my building at my former residence in October 2017 and didn’t even have anxiety after that, although I did have a couple nightmares. How is this possible?
Science tells us that anxiety is part of the brain and nervous system’s way of signaling to us that we need to be vigilant, sometimes hypervigilant. Although, it appears popular theories say this is the result of the amygdala, a small part of the rear lower part of our brains, it is actually part of a threat detect system that we evolved to help us survive (The Amygdala Is NOT the Brain’s Fear Center). The bottom line is we have all had to deal with these two uncomfortable feelings.
Meditation combined with Buddhist teachings help us to see that, first of all, all humans deal with these feelings. The teaching of the hindrances map these out in great detail as obstacles to peace and happiness. They are:
- The belief in a permanent personality, ego (Pali: sakkāya-diṭṭhi)
- Doubt, extreme skepticism (vicikicchā)
- Attachment to rites, rituals, and ceremonies (sīlabbata-parāmāso)
- Attachment to sense desires (kāmacchando)
- Ill-will, anger (vyāpādo or byāpādo)
- Craving for existence in the Form world [heavenly realms] (rūparāgo) (wishing you were a different person)
- Craving for existence in the Formless world [heavenly realms] (arūparāgo) (wishing you were dead)
- Conceit (māna)
- Restlessness (uddhacca)
- Ignorance (avijjā)
These items take us immediately out of what is really going on in any given moment and creating a false version of reality.
It is helpful to know that we are not alone and it is helpful to know there is a way out. Thankfully, Buddhist teachings give us other qualities and intentions to focus on our quest to eradicate these hindrances and to evolve our minds to produce thoughts and feelings of peace. The Noble Eightfold Path and the Perfections or the paramitas:
- Dana Paramita: Perfection of Generosity
- Sila Paramita: Perfection of Morality
- Ksanti Paramita: Perfection of Patience
- Virya Paramita: Perfection of Energy (Enthusiasm)
- Dhyana Paramita: Perfection of Meditation
- Prajna Paramta: Perfection of Wisdom
A series I recently shared goes into this in detail Buddhism: Karma and The Family on how to implement each of these positive qualities and behaviors. My argument in the series on dealing with family issues by focusing on the paramitas is we are so busy implementing these in our lives we won’t have time to focus on the negative. Additionally, they give us the positive reward our brains are always looking for and that is, scientifically speaking, what makes them work. Along with the mindfulness skill we develop with meditation we can completely remove negative states and almost never have to deal with them again, as fantastic as that may sound. It’s true. Having implemented this myself, as a person with severe PTSD I still have symptoms but I don’t react to them.
4) Walking Away From Situations That No Longer Serve You
There is a section of Buddhist scripture or sutras called Sabbāsava Sutta that contains instructions on how to deal with many life challenges. Although the translation becomes a bit complicated the essence of it that situations that we need to remove ourselves from for our own good definitely have a solution. It’s no secret that modern medical science and psychology have warned of the effects of long term negative stress, that is external factors, that affect our health.
Over the long term, people who react more to stress have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. This risk particularly is linked to people who tend to be excessively competitive, impatient, hostile, and move and talk quickly. Of these characteristics, hostility is often pinpointed as the most significant. PsychCentral
Not sure if you see where I’m going with this final one here today…but, this is to illustrate once more the wisdom of Buddhist practice and study. The process of meditation which cultivates mindfulness so that we become aware of the contents of our minds which as we see here are very close to what the Buddhist call the hindrances I spoke of above. The study of Buddhist teachings shows us exactly how we can have the wisdom to change ourselves and sometimes that change is how we are engaging with a situation that is or has the potential to cause harm to our psychological or physical health.
Buddhism teaches us the methods to build resilience and remove unwanted things from our lives by experimenting with the instructions in the sutras and see if they actually work. I am so gung ho because I actually started on the Buddhist path, not because I was sure of any of it. But the exact opposite, I knew nothing about it and had an experience of the little “I” or “self”. That says I, me all the time, well, it disappeared. I was so astonished I had to find out what exactly happened to me, that lead me to Zen then that led me to pay deeper attention to the teachers I already knew but didn’t understand.
So, if you follow the Eightfold Noble Path and are practicing meditation naturally you will remove yourself from any situation because you have trained your mind to operate on a higher level and you just won’t tolerate it.
I get excited every time I write one of these essays because it commits deeper things I already learned and I also learn new things each time which inform my meditation practice. It thrills me and fills me with the perfection or the paramita of Virya Paramita: Perfection of Energy (Enthusiasm). I hope it inspires you even just a little. I love hearing from you it puts a big smile on my face.