His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks of counteracting forces for the disturbing emotions. These counteracting forces are specific mental states that we cultivate to oppose the ones that are not realistic or beneficial.
Reflection on impermanence and death is an excellent opponent force for worry and for craving. When we reflect on impermanence and our own mortality, our priorities become much clearer. Since we know that death is certain but its time isn't, we realize that having a positive mental state in the present is of utmost importance. Worry can't abide in a mind that is content with what we have, do, and are. Seeing that all things are transient, we stop craving and clinging to them, thus our happy memories and enjoyable daydreams cease to be so compelling.
Recognizing that past turmoil and future rhapsodies are projections of our mind prevents us from getting stuck in them. Just as the face in the mirror is not a real face, the objects of our memories and daydreams are likewise unreal. They are not happening now; they are simply mental images flickering in the mind.
Reflecting on the value of our precious human life also minimizes our habit of ruminating. Our wondrous potential becomes clear, and the rarity and value of the present opportunity shines forth. Who wants to ruminate about the past and future when we can do so much good and progress spiritually in the present?
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Center of the Universe: Me, Myself, and I?
One counteracting force that works well is realizing that all these ruminations star Me, the Center of the Universe. All the stories, tragedies, comedies, and dramas revolve around one person, who is clearly the most important one in all existence, Me. Just acknowledging the power of the mind to condense the universe into Me shows the foolishness of our ruminations.
A huge universe exists with countless sentient beings in it, each of them wanting happiness and not wanting suffering just as intensely as we do. Yet, our self-centered mind forgets them and focuses on Me. When we recognize this mechanism, our self-centeredness evaporates because we cannot justify worrying about only ourselves when so many other living beings exist in this universe.
The most powerful counteracting force is the wisdom realizing that there is no concrete Me to start with. It's intriguing to examine: Who is the Me that is the star of all these thoughts? Who is having all these ruminations? When we search, we cannot find a truly existent Me anywhere. Just as there is no concrete Me to be found in this carpet, there is no concrete Me to be found in this body and mind. Both are equally empty of a truly existent person who exists under her own power.
With this understanding, the mind relaxes. The ruminations cease, and with wisdom and compassion, the me that exists by being merely labeled in dependence on the body and mind can spread joy in the world.
Taming the Mind
by Thubten Chodron.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Snow Lion Publications. ©2004. www.snowlionpub.com.
About the Author
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, an American-born Tibetan Buddhist nun, has studied and practiced Buddhism in India and Nepal since 1975. Ven. Chodron travels worldwide teaching and leading meditation retreats and is known for her clear and practical explanations of the Buddha's teachings. She is the author of Buddhism for Beginners, Working with Anger, and Open Heart, Clear Mind. Visit her website at www.thubtenchodron.org.