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Saturday, April 30, 2022

Understanding of Human Mind in Buddhist Teachings

 “A cloud never dies” is the name of a documentary on the life of Venerable Thich Naht Hanh narrated by Mr. Peter Coyote. Watching it was a moving experience since I have been in the presence of “Thay” on  two occasions for extended periods listening to his Dharma talks and taking part in his morning walking meditation on two occasions.

Reflecting on my own growth in spirituality, I know how much his teachings helped me. I consider him Buddha reborn in the 20th century to re-establish the original teachings. “Thay” calls his approach “engaged Buddhism”. It is a perfect designation.

I consider myself a spiritual person at this stage in life. I was born and brought up in a traditional Hindu family immersed in the daily rituals of worshiping the Divine in everything. I have delved deeply into my tradition. I have also read extensively about other traditions from both the east and the west. I am no scholar. But have reflected deeply looking for common  threads, and messages of peace, and harmony in the various traditions of the world.

Based on my readings and reflections, it appears that Buddhist tradition is one which places emphasis on living a wholesome life in this phenomenal world and at the same time makes us aware of the spiritual dimension of the universe and of ourselves. It emphasizes respect for all forms of life. Buddhist psychology (called abhidharma)  tries to understand the way human mind works. These ancient ideas have been substantiated by modern neuroscience to the point that Buddha is now called the “Physician of the Mind”.

Buddhist meditation techniques offer practical methods, simple to practice and accessible to everyone. One can use it for body relaxation or pain reduction. One can use it for understanding oneself and others and develop compassion and loving-kindness. One can use these techniques to make connections between the historical elements and the Universal elements. It can help overcome the pitfalls in human perceptions, reasoning, and actions without demanding absolute faith in any dogma, even its own.

One other attractive and useful approach of  Buddhism-inspired meditation (particularly the Mindfulness idea) is that it starts with helping to build on one’s strengths before touching the weaknesses. This is the opposite of the approach of traditional psychology and psychiatry, which focuses on the “problem” area, trying to find its cause in the psychology and behavior of the individual.

In Buddhist abhidharma, we learn that all of us are born with 51 mental formations. Some of them are wholesome and helpful, such as loving kindness, compassion, and mindfulness.  Some are unwholesome and harmful, such as hate and prejudice. All of us have all of them in our “store consciousness” as seeds. We have to learn how to water the “good” seeds. Meditation techniques have been developed and practiced over centuries to help “water the good seeds” in us.

Because of the reasons I have listed in the previous paragraph, these ideas can be practiced by anyone from any religion, tradition, or culture. Hopefully the abhidharma (spiritual psychology) of Buddhist teachings which should be acceptable to all cultures and traditions can become the foundation for peace and harmony in the 21st century.  

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