A Panacea for the Disturbed Mind
By Geshe Namgyal Wangchen
A renowned scholar and practitioner of Drepung Loseling Monastery, Geshe Namgyal Wangchen is well acquainted with the problems faced in the west and is skilled in teaching Buddhist methods to help solve them. Ven Sean Price asked him to offer some advice to help those with psychological suffering.
1. What meditation techniques would you suggest for people suffering from low self-esteem?
There are two principal causes of low self-esteem; the root is fear of not being able to live up to expectations. From that come circumstances met with unrealistic expectations and desires, which affect the way we view ourselves and the world.
We need to seek out the root cause of our problems and apply antidotes which accord with our needs and dispositions. Non-Buddhists need the recognition that life isn’t perfect. Whether rich or poor, our lives are the source of our problems. Understanding this develop courage and determination to deal with problems. We need to be open-minded and anticipate difficulties; through that you develop inner strength. When troubles come, you are ready for them and can ignore or mentally disentangle from them.
The Buddhist practitioner should view all problems as the nature of cyclic existence, life under the control of delusions and karma. Recognize there is nothing external to point an accusing finger at; you are fully responsible for your own problems and for their removal. I recommend meditation on transforming problems into the spiritual path from the mind training books.
In essence, keep your mind relaxed at all times and accept the manifold experiences of life. Look at all situations with a sense of cheer and humor and, just as we may watch a comedy on the television to relieve tension, we should laugh at ourselves and have no tension. With this mind look at your good qualities and abilities; look honestly at what you have, not at what you want, which increases your frustration and feeling of worthlessness and leads to feelings of hopelessness and fear. Everyone has manifold good qualities-they just need to be recognized.
Changing your view of yourself and generating a feeling of contentment are extremely important. If you want to change things about yourself, gather the causes within open-mindedness and without unrealistic expectations. Don’t expect drastic changes, worldly or spiritual, but continue in a relaxed and dignified manner. In this way we turn inward and learn to love ourselves in all situations, generating belief in ourselves and our abilities to overcome problems.
Note how crafty our minds are, cunningly exaggerating the tiniest problem out of all proportion. When this happens look at the trouble for what it is; not at the huge illusion exaggerated by the mind. In a horror movie a ghost may seems huge and frightening to a child but an adult, knowing the nature of the cinema, remains unmoved. Through knowing the nature of mind and how the mind exaggerates, you remain unmoved.
We can also do a short meditation when we experience trouble. Sit quietly with a relaxed mind. Visualize in the space in front of you either the form of Buddha or Christ or someone similar; a non-religious person could visualize positive energy in the form of a moon disc. From this visualization come soothing light rays and nectar which come to the crown of your head and wash away all negative feelings and agitation.
In the long run, however, we need to develop the qualities mentioned earlier. Again sit quietly, look at yourself, consider your qualities, and see how unrealistic expectations lead to suffering. Then look at others and open yourself to their problems and suffering and generate a wish to free them from these. Through this a feeling of contentment and strength of mind will be born which will act as the antidote for and freedom from fear.
2. Could you suggest methods to develop healthy confidence without falling into pride?
Having confidence is something positive and should be developed. It comes from a sense of fearlessness in one’s abilities and knowledge, whereas pride and associated negative minds come about through exaggerating these and just bring unhappiness. A lack of confidence comes from not looking realistically at one’s abilities. Recognize that “nothing arises without a cause,” so the hardest of jobs can be accomplished by gathering the causes. For example, when learning to drive we take lessons, slowly learn the procedures, take the test, drive, and eventually become a good driver. We have the ability and knowledge to look at the long-term effect and gather the causes. We all have the same basic human intelligence; it’s just a matter of putting it to work.
A danger is once we have learnt to drive we may feel as if we know everything and are perfect, exaggerating our qualities and developing pride. An effective remedy is to reflect that even if you have many qualities there’s always so much more you don’t know-this will help to bring down your inflated view. Just as the most intelligent boy in a rural village loses his status the moment he goes to the city, the exaggerated view we hold of ourselves when put in the context of wider learning loses its hold over us.
3. What advice would you give to those who have little if any contentment?
For people who have grown up in modern societies, it is very difficult to have complete contentment as there are so many external pressures pushing you to be better, and have more and more. Our environment is teaching us ‘non-contentment’ as a solution to our problems and as a means to better our lives. Nowadays many people from such environments suffer from anxiety, stress, and related sicknesses. You must look for a method which cuts discontentment whilst still living in your respective countries.
First, we need to recognize our abilities. We need to curb desire which is running out of control onto external objects. How? By looking at the objects and seeing they cannot bring us lasting happiness. After gaining something our fickle minds, as we all know, quickly want something else. It is within our minds that true happiness comes, not from external sources. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have material things; rather change your view with regard to their acquisition and your attachment to them by seeing the faults of excessive desire and attachment. We need to look at what we have and not always at what others have or what society tells us we should have.
Contemplate those who are less fortunate and rejoice in how lucky we are to have sound bodies and minds and the materials for a healthy life. Through this we can cease to grasp after external wealth and will gather inner wealth. It is said, “Though lacking external wealth, a person with contentment has great inner wealth.” If we are living in modern societies we need both, but in balance.
4. What would you suggest for people who suffer from fear and paranoia?
The antidotes for these are simple meditations on love and compassion. Around you visualize people you know-friends, family etc-then people you are indifferent to, and finally your enemies. If this part is too difficult initially leave it out but when you gain some experience with this you must include your enemies. Slowly look at yourself; how you want to be free of suffering and have happiness and start to wish it for yourself. Then look at others, open your mind to them and see how they are just the same as you in wanting happiness and wanting to avoid suffering. Slowly start wishing them happiness and freedom from suffering. This can have a huge impact on the way we view ourselves and those around us.
5. And for people whose minds are disturbed by impatience, anger, and jealousy?
Impatience can be caused by many things- stress, tension, etc. You can apply a number of remedies including yoga and quietly watching the breath or thoughts. It is important to look for the cause of our frustration. We may be in a foreign country, unfamiliar with its systems and we get upset when trying to do something or we may have a thought about how something should be done and when circumstances don’t meet with our ideal we get upset. In both instances frustration comes from clinging to our thoughts without regard for the external situation. At such times, it would be good to watch the flow of our thoughts and learn to let the thoughts go, as opposed to being rigid. If you have trained in this, when impatience arises you can notice it and let it go. It may sound simple but it really takes some practice!
The antidote for anger is love and this technique was given above. It is impossible to meditate on the antidotes to these problems when they are manifest in our minds. We must first remove ourselves from the situation, quiet the mind, and apply the antidote. Just as a good soldier prepares for battle long before fighting, we need to prepare our minds with these simple techniques before we get in a predicament within which we will need them. Also reflect how all sentient beings are identical to us in wanting to be happy and with anger you are ruining not only your own happiness but also that of people around you. If others become angry with us and we get angry in return the problem just escalates but if we remain calm the situation will naturally subside. Reflect that the person who is angry with me is under the command of anger just as a kidnap victim is forced to act by his abductor. These simple analogies can be very helpful.
Jealousy comes from a feeling of self-importance, looking at others in a contemptuous way. For this meditate on equanimity. If we look objectively at jealousy we will see that it is a mind which has no use at all, just making you feel unhappy.
In western counties, there doesn’t seem to be much physical work to do, all the work seems to be mental. Too much thinking in a negative context can lead to these destructive thoughts. Therefore, we need to learn positive ways, and let go of all thoughts in general and negative ones in particular. Eventually we’ll learn to be like somebody watching the sky seeing various clouds, storms, and rainbows form but not being attached or averse to any of them.
For any of these techniques to work it is essential that we try them in a disciplined and ordered way. Set a schedule and stick to it. Don’t expect great success right away; keep the long-term effect in mind and slowly progress. We can start with fifteen or twenty minutes every day. Later prolong the time but no great leaps! This will do more harm than good in the long run.
I have tried to give answers according to the spiritual heritage of Tibet. I hope I’ve been of some use to you and I wish you all a happy life.