Edited Dharma talk given by Ani Tenzin Palmo
Cambridge Zen Center, Cambridge, U.S.A., 1st June, 1997

We own our Minds

As I'm sure you know the essence of the Buddhist path is mind training, which in the West is known as meditation.  In the Buddhadharma it takes the central place, everything else revolves around it.  And this is as it should be because in one way the mind is the only thing we have.  Apart from it, we cannot experience anything either within ourselves or without.  If the consciousness goes, we're like a log, we're just a corpse, or a vegetable if our heart is still beating.

The essential problem in our lives 
is our own Minds.

It is very important to appreciate that the essential problem in our lives is our own minds.  As long as we are always blaming things on the outside - our upbringing and our parents, our environment, our workplace, our spouse, or the district or the country or the world, or Samsara, we will always be going outwards, trying to mend little bits here and there, applying stickers and Band-Aids over our problems.  But the basic dissatisfaction, the basic problems, don't go away no matter how hard we try.

We try so hard to arrange things on the outside, so that they fit in with our ideas of what would make us happy and content.  But it doesn't work.  We are like that proverbial rodent on the wheel, just going round and round and round, exhausting ourselves and going nowhere.  Sooner or later we realize this.  Then we start looking for answers to our problems.  Why are we dissatisfied?  Why are we not happy?  That is when people begin to turn inward and look for an inner answer to their problems.  As soon as we do this, as soon as we turn our attention away from all the external problems and turn it into ourselves and see that basically our problems stem from our own responses to life, then we should feel enormous relief.  After all, if all the problems come from the outside, or if all the problems stem from our infancy, which, after all, is gone and irrevocable, then there's not much hope.  But if the real answer lies in the present, right now, within us, then there's enormous hope.  Therefore Dharma practitioners should always be very joyful and not look so solemn!

We need to tame and cultivate our own minds.

Shantideva, an Indian scholar and practitioner of the 7th century, points out that the world is covered with thorns and thistles and stones and pebbles and that if we walk barefoot across that kind of path, we will always be stubbing our toes and hurting ourselves.  So what are we going to do?  Are we going to carpet the earth?  That's not possible.  But if we take just two pieces of leather and put them under our feet as sandals, or shoes then we can walk anywhere and we are protected.  But like trying to carpet the earth, if we try to make the whole world, our entire external environment, perfect and smooth and without conflict, we'll find that's impossible too.  We are always going to meet people who annoy us.  We are always going to meet situations that don't come up to our expectations.  This is the way things are.  And if we hope that we can somehow create an external environment which will always come up to our expectations, then we are always going to be sadly disappointed.  But we don't need to do that because if we learn how to tame and cultivate our own mind, then we can deal with everything outside.

We can change Ourselves!

This is wonderfully good news because we do own our minds.  We cannot always change the external environment.  We certainly cannot change many or most of the people we encounter.  But we can change ourselves and once we are changed, everything changes.  Things are still going to happen to us that we can't prevent, but how we respond to those situations that we can deal with will then profoundly influence the results of whatever situation we are in.  This is so important because how we respond to situations will not only change those situations but also create our future.  Our lives are basically in our own hands.  We have so much responsibility but this is a wonderful thing - our life in our own hands.  We don't have to give it away to anyone else.  We don't have to blame anyone else.  We don't have to blame ourselves either.  How we respond moment to moment to moment creates our life for us.  This is why different people meeting with very much the same kind of situation react differently - some are broken, some are exalted.  Same situation, different mindset. -THE END.


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