“Who here is new to Buddhism?” asked Venerable Acharya Lama Orgyen Zangpo before diving into his introduction to Buddhism talk in the cozy Tibetan Healing Center in San Diego.
I was the only Asian in the room, and one of the few who raised their hands! Funny who teaches who what these days.
I’d always thought of Buddhism as a nice theoretical practice for other people, people who wanted to deny and deprive themselves of a full range of emotions. For people who liked to live in ivory towers or isolated mountaintops.
A few weeks ago I found myself in a situation that showed me that I’d outgrown my ways of handling stressful or irritating situations. Seeing the limits of our mental constructs is a big deal – it’s easy to dance between existing emotional spaces and coping mechanisms for years, thinking that we’re maturing when in reality nothing’s changed.
For example, on one hand it’s easy blame others for our circumstances. It becomes kind of a sport, in fact.
On the other hand, sometimes we learn to “take responsibility” for the unfortunate situation in which we find ourselves. This can lead to suppressed emotions, a displaced anger that then rears itself elsewhere. Even though it feels a bit more mature to think that we’re guiding our thinking towards a better result, the source of the discomfort isn’t changed.
So here I was a few weeks ago squishing the red “End Call” button on my phone in anger (“you’re being a jerk!”) and confusion (“was I being a jerk?”).
Bouncing back and forth between blaming external situations or “sucking it up” and trying to rationalize a situation, I saw that I was stuck in a loop and it was time for an upgrade. Enter Buddhism.
Lucky for me, I was hanging out with my wise friend Mila who is well studied in the spiritual arts. Just a few minutes before that phone call she was sharing about Buddhism, that it is a way of thinking and managing thought – CAUSE – to create happiness and reduce suffering.
Then voila! Here was my immediate opportunity to apply Buddhist theories. I didn’t have full knowledge of Buddhist theories, but the little I knew became my gateway to free me from the suffering of that phone call. It piqued my interest to learn more!
Lucky for me (again!), Venerable Acharya Lama Orgyen Zangpo was on tour through Southern California. He stopped to give an intro to Buddhism talk where I got to learn the more I was seeking. A conversation with Mila afterwards helped to add additional clarity to his points.
Below are the bullets points of what I learned and how to apply the ideas. It seems simple, because it is! The simplicity makes it easy to apply.
As Venerable Acharya Lama Orgyen Zangpo said, “We often want to complicate things – but complication is not necessary.”
You can think anything. We have power over our thinking.
Thinking has CAUSAL power.
Thinking is the SOURCE of our condition (experience).
The cause of suffering is negative thinking.
The cause of happiness is positive thinking.
THINKING (source) –> KARMA –> PHENOMENA/perception/condition
Thinking causes Karma causes phenomena/what we perceive/conditions
If we are suffering, it is because we have negative thinking. Do not try to change the phenomena/condition/environment – that will be ineffective. Instead, change your thinking.
Examples of trying to change the condition: adding new or “good” things (cars, homes, watches, relationships, jobs, etc), getting rid of bad things (relationships, jobs, people, etc).
Each category of negative thinking has a positive antidote:
|Negative Thought||Positive Antidote|
To dwell in negative thoughts gives only a few (one or two) options for being or action, whereas to open yourself up to the positive antidote gives many more options for being and action.
If you find yourself suffering, identify which of the negatives thoughts you’re having and apply the antidote.
This is a very simple and basic explanation of Buddhist tenets, yet I’ve been able to apply them immediately to situations in my life, and yield fast, happy results.
Back to my earlier example, the angering phone call: I was able to look at the situation with compassion, and see the stress that caused the other person’s anger in the first place. To feel real compassion for their situation. To feel compassion for MY situation. Feeling this compassion, BEING compassion, I was able to cause an opportunity for us to both understand each other better, and we were able to create a result of vulnerability that led to greater closeness.