Looking closely at our experience
Buddhism describes our problems and sufferings, their causes, the path to liberate ourselves from them, and the resultant state of bliss from having ceased all undesirable experiences. Buddhism is an approach to life that helps us to act effectively and compassionately. It contains practical techniques which can remedy our disturbing attitudes and daily problems.
In the course of one day, we experience many emotions. Some emotions, such as genuine love and compassion, are valuable. Others, attachment, anger, closed-mindedness, pride and jealousy, disturb our mental peace and make us act in ways that disturb others. The chapters in this section will examine these disturbing attitudes and explore some antidotes to pacify and transform them.
All disturbing attitudes are based upon the innate assumption that happiness and pain come from outside ofus. Itseems that other people and things make us happy or miserable. Thus, we rely on external objects that we contact through our five senses-seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching-to make us happy. We have the notion that happiness is located “out there,” in that object, place or person. Consequently, we try to procure certain things and be near certain people. Similarly, we try to avoid all objects and people that make us unhappy, because it appears our unhappiness is coming from them.
The view that happiness and unhappiness come from external things and people puts us in a predicament, because we can never completely control the people and things around us. We try to obtain the possessions we want, but we never have enough. Continuously disappointed, we search for more and better of whatever it is we think will bring us happiness. But do we know one rich person who is totally satisfied? Do we know one person who is completely content with his friends and relatives?
Likewise, we think that whenever we have a problem, it’s due to an external person or thing. We attribute our emotional problems to the way our parents treated us when we were young. We blame our present dissatisfaction on our employers, employees, relatives or teachers. We wish that the people around us would learn to treat us better. Others aren’t what we want them to be, and we are constantly frustrated in our attempts to make them change.
Our lives can become very complicated as we try to make the world be what we want it to be. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t cooperate! Our plans and dreams are only partially actualized, if at all. Although we may temporarily succeed in influencing others’ actions, we can’t dictate what they feel and think. When we do get what we want, we’re ecstatic; when we don’t, we’re disappointed and depressed. Like emotional yo-yos, we go up and down according to whatever person or object we meet. We need only look at the number of moods we’ve had today to confirm this.
However, once we check our daily life experiences we’ll find that happiness and goodness don’t exist in external objects and people, nor do unhappiness and unpleasantness. If they did then all of us should perceive and react to things in the same way, since we’d be perceiving what is “out there,” independent of ourselves.
But we don’t all like the same people or things: one person likes pop music while another doesn’t. Nor do we always enjoy something: as youngsters we liked comic books, but as adults we may find them boring. This shows that our experiences with people or things depend on our way of viewing and relating to them.
Thus, by changing our interpretations and the way in which we relate to things and people, we can change our experience of them. We can recognize our projections, over-and underes-timations of things and people, and then correct these mis-conceptions. In this way we’ll relate to things more realistically and will be more satisfied. By abandoning the misconceptions that lead to attachment, anger, c1osedmindedness, pride and jealousy, we’ll relate to other people and to possessions in a more balanced way.