During his 1989 visit to the United States, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the 1989 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, spoke directly to the heartfelt concern of people in our modern age:
“Everyone in our world is interrelated and interdependent. My own personal peace and happiness are my concern. I’m responsible for that. But the happiness and peace of the entire society is everyone’s concern. Each of us has the individual responsibility to do what we’re capable of to improve our world.
In our century, compassion is a necessity, not a luxury. Humans are social animals and we must live together, whether we like it or not. If we lack kind hearts and compassion for each other, our very existence is threatened. Even ifwe’re going to be selfish, we should be wisely selfish and understand that our personal survival and happiness depends on others. Therefore, kindness and compassion towards them are essential.
Bees and ants have no religion, no education or philosophy, yet they instinctively cooperate with each other. In doing so, they insure the survival of their society and the happiness of each individual in it. Surely we humans, who are more intelligent and sophisticated, can do the same!
Thus, we each have the individual responsibility to help others in whatever way we can. However, we shouldn’t expect to change the world instantly. As long as we’re not enlightened, our actions to benefit others will be limited. Without inner peace, it is impossible to have world peace. Therefore, we must improve ourselves and at the same time do what we can to help others.”
In his talk, His Holiness directly mentions compassion as an essential element in our world. To make our compassion effective, it must be coupled with wisdom. Compassion wishes all others to be free from suffering and confusion; wisdom directly realizes our ultimate and relative natures. These are the essential components of a healthy and happy life, and they are the essence of the spiritual path.
This book is entitled Open Heart, Clear Mind. The open heart is sincere compassion and altruism. This heart is complemented and enhanced by concise wisdom-a clear mind. The union of compassion and wisdom brings the full development of human potential, the enlightened state. An open heart and a clear mind are as relevant today as 2,500 years ago, when Shakyamuni Buddha first described the path to actualize them.
I was initially attracted by the Buddha’s teachings because they contained clear techniques to effectively deal with situations in daily life. The instructions on how to subdue anger and attachment worked when I tried them. Of course, it takes time to train our minds and we shouldn’t expect instant miracles, but as we familiarize ourselves with realistic and compassionate attitudes, situations that used to upset us no longer do so, and our ability to make our lives meaningful for others increases.
The Buddha was a profound philosopher and psychologist whose instructions can empower us to improve our lives. One needn’t consider him or herself a Buddhist to practice these techniques. Real spiritual practice goes beyond the pigeon-holes of “isms.” As His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says, “Compassion isn’t the property of anyone r’eligion or belief system.”
In the course of teaching Buddhist philosophy, psychology and meditation in many countries, I’ve frequently been asked to recommend a good book for beginners, one that’s easy to understand and explains the essential points of the Buddha’s teachings in a way that relates to twentieth-century life. Although there are many excellent books on Buddhism, most don’t fit this description. Open Heart, Clear Mind is designed to fill this gap. It’s written in eyeryday English, with as few technical or foreign terms as possible. I’ve tried to explain clearly the topics in Buddhism that newcomers find most interesting, pertinent or confusing.
This book will give you a taste of Buddha’s teachings, but it won’t give you all the answers. In fact, it’s more likely to arouse additional questions. But that’s okay, because we grow when we seek answers to our questions.
In Buddhist study, we’re not expected to understand everything we’re taught immediately. This is different from one aspect of Western education, in which we’re supposed to memorize, understand and repeat back what we’re taught. In studying the Dharma, the Buddha’s teachings, it’s assumed that not everything will be clear to us the first time we hear it. Reviewing the same material repeatedly often reveals new meanings. Discussion with friends can also clarify our understanding.
The Buddha talked about our lives and our minds. So this book isn’t about abstract philosophy, it’s about experience our experience - and the way to improve it. Thus, it’s helpful to think about what you read in terms of your own life and your experiences.
This book is about Buddha’s teachings in general, not one particular Buddhist tradition. However, as I’ve trained principally in Tibetan Buddhism, the format accords with that presentation.
Some of you will read this book from beginning to end, others will pick out sections that are of special interest. If you’re in the latter group, the chapter titles are explicit and will help you find your areas of interest.
For those of you who read from cover to cover, the sequence of chapters is intended to guide you. First, the Buddhist approach to the search for truth is explained. The second section, “Working with Emotions,” describes our daily experiences and gives some new perspectives on it. This contains many practical techniques for improving our relationships with people.
The third section, “Our Current Situation,” looks at our lives from another perspective by introducing the subjects of rebirth and karma. Having understood our current situation, we’ll examine our potential for growth-our innate goodness and our precious human life-in the fourth section.
Section five explains how to develop our potential by following the path to enlightenment. The Four Noble Truths was the first teaching the Buddha gave. When we understand the disadvantages of our current situation and our amazing potential, the determination to be free from all unsatisfactory conditions in life will grow within us. This will lead us to practice ethics in order to establish a firm foundation for our future development. From there, we can expand our perspective and recognize others’ kindness, thus developing our love, compassion and an altruistic intention. To fulfill our potential and be able to be of greater service to others, we must have wisdom, particularly wisdom of the ultimate nature of existence. Compassion, altruism and wisdom lead us to open hearts and clear minds.
All of these topics provide food for meditation, so meditation is discussed next. Having a general overview of the path to enlightenment, we can then appreciate the qualities of the Buddhas (enlightened beings), the Dharma (spiritual realizations and teachings), and the Sangha (those who help us on the path). This is explained in the chapter on taking refuge.
Some of you may be interested in the life of Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of the Bud~stphilosophy and psychology. The sixth section discusses this and also explains some of the principal Buddhist traditions practiced today. “Compassion in Action” suggests practical ways to implement the Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives.
My aim is to give you access to the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. Thus, much material has been condensed into a few pages. I have tried give you enough, yet not too much. However, since each person has a different appetite, this is difficult to do! If you seek more information, please read other books, attend Buddhist talks or talk with Buddhist practitioners. I welcome you also to write to me. There is a brief list of resources at the end of the book.
A few linguistic and stylistic points must be mentioned. First, in Buddhist terminology, no difference is made between heart and mind, one word being used for both. For convenience sake, “mind” is used here, although this term doesn’t refer to our brain or to our intellect only. Our mind is what perceives and experiences our external and internal worlds. It’s formless, and includes our sense consciousnesses, mental consciousness, emotions, intelligence and so on. This will be explained later.
Second, “the Buddha” refers to Shakyamuni Buddha who lived 2,500 years ago in India. However, there are many beings who have attained enlightenment and become Buddhas.
Third, “he/she” and “slhe” are awkward to use for the indefinite third person pronoun. Instead, I use the pronouns “he,” “she” and “he or she” interchangeably.
Finally, some words may be unfamiliar or have a somewhat different meaning than in regular usage. A short glossary of Buddhist terms is provided at the back of this book to help you.
My heartfelt thanks go to many people who enabled me to write this book. My gratitude to all of my teachers-especially His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche and Zopa Rinpoche-can’t be expressed.
The inspiration for writing this book came from students in Singapore and from the people who attended my talks during a lecture tour in the U.S.A. and Canada. Support came from many kind benefactors who fed and housed me, in particular Amitabha Buddhist Center in Singapore, Osel Shenpen Ling in Montana and Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle.
Special thanks go to Steve Wilhelm and Cindy Loth for editing the manuscript, to Lesley Lockwood and Gary Loth for reviewing it and making valuable suggestions, and to Geshe Thupten Jinpa for checking the difficult sections. The drawings were done by Sonam Jigme and Jangchub Ngawang.
Although I have little understanding of the path to enlightenment I’ve tried to repeat here what my kind teachers have taught me. All mistakes are my own.