The tremendous amount of inner knowledge and peace that came from today’s lecturer was incomprehensible. Never having the opportunity before to hear a lecture by a Buddhist monk Gen Kelsang Dorje, Resident Teacher for Vajrayana Kadampa Buddhist Center, provided a special experience for me. His calm demeanor, soft speech and monk robe, spoke volumes to the inner peace that radiated from him during his lecture: All In Your Mind: A Buddhist Perspective on Consciousness and Reality on February 13, 2014. Thousands of years ago the person known as Buddha examined the nature of the mind and developed a comprehensive theory of consciousness. Dorje discussed the central view of Buddhist philosophy and explored the Buddhist perspective on the nature and function of the mind and the true nature of reality.
He began by noting that meditation and Buddhism go well together. With that, he led us through a semi-guided meditation. Dorje commented that the quality of our mind is what is important and familiarizing our mind with that which brings benefit to us, will train our mind to be free from negativity. Thus meditation would be used as tool, allowing us to transform negativity from our minds. In doing so, this opens our heart and imagination, were we then can create a peaceful place.
After the short eight minute meditation, I felt as if I cleared space for his lecture, leaving behind any preconceived notions I might have had and allowing an open invitation to hear a perspective that wasn't one of my own.
Dorje then started by noting that all of our experiences are due to the quality of our mind. Meditation can assist in changing our mind to one of quality thinking, but we cannot change anyone else’s mind. This is because happiness is a feeling that comes from within, it’s relative. What happiness means to one person, can be very different than another. We must get over “trying to change others,” Dorje continued. Because we cannot change what is “out there” around us, until we change “inside us” first. This is a central tenet to Buddhist belief, and by taking the time to go within to change the quality of our minds, we can help to deter negativity around us. He pointed out that if anyone wanted to explore modern Buddhism further, to download the free eBook Modern Buddhism – The Path of Compassion and Wisdom, at www.emodernbuddhism.com.
Dorje moved on to discuss the nature and function of the mind, from the inklings of the Mahamudra scriptures, which represent the culmination of Buddhist practices. Dorje explained we should realize that within our own mind, we can obtain Buddha, which means “a mind that is awake.” He warned not to waste time seeking Buddha elsewhere but within. We all have this potential to be awake, Dorje went on, and that is, “awake from ignorance” and in peace with our own lives and personal karma we carry around. Yes, karma. He mentioned it often, as the part of us we bring from our past lives. This concept of karmic reincarnation is critical in Buddhist thought.
“How is it that we can learn how to be free from difficulty and suffering,” he asked, and noted that everyone wants to be happy – that’s our daily goal, or at least should be. No one intentionally walks around in life trying to be unhappy, he reminded us. Once we know where the suffering is coming from, we can do something about it. This concept of awareness is important in all aspects of our conscious development. Dorje continued along this thought and stated that in difficulty we tend to feel powerless, but we obtain power when we find the source. Awareness therefore brings with it power, to change. So what exactly needs to change? Dorje suggests that it’s our perception that needs to change–one from thinking we have a problem, to one of an opportunity to learn. In this mindset, the issue then is not really a problem. If we train our minds to react in this way, we will obtain the power we need to overcome it. He reminds us that life will happen to us, in every diversion possible, and the quality of our thoughts and how we handle difficulty, is all from the state of our minds. We all know that this sounds easier said than done, but Dorje insisted that we have the ”ability to accomplish this because we have a mind.” I began to think about how difficult it is to teach that the concept of happiness as internal, in a culture where happiness is found in external things.
He continued by saying that the nature of the mind is our consciousness, but is careful to note that he doesn't mean the brain. We know things through our mind not our body, and the brain is an organ of the body. “In Buddhism, the body and mind are two separate things, although they do have a relationship,” Dorje contended. He set the connection by asking what would happen to our body if our consciousness left us? He suggested our body would fall and be lifeless, as our consciousness “moves us.” I wondered if this was the case, could plants and animals be conscious?
“Consciousness comes from previous moments,” Dorje said, adding there is no beginning or end. Instead, our consciousness is a continuum. Moment by moment it's changing based on conditions and our actions within them. In turn, our lives are a result of our actions, hearing it again - karma. Dorje continued that babies come into this world with past wisdom and joked this is good news for parents, that it's not their fault. “Our job is to love kids, not to change them.” He declared that the objective of karma, is wisdom. Dorje recognized that not everyone believes in reincarnation and the thought of living many lives, but joked that if there is another life after this one, then reincarnation of our karma prepares us for the next life with its wisdom. I thought about my son, and how he smiled in his sleep the first weeks of his life. I always wondered how he could know what smiling was and how to do it, unless he had done it before. Especially since he could only see clearly within inches of his face.
Dorje concluded with discussing what reality means for Buddhists. “There is no other that appears to us, than what is in our mind,” he said. Everything we see even has dependence on what’s in our mind. Going back to the earlier example of what would happen if the mind left - what would we see? He stopped to say... who are we? “We are whoever we think we are.”
Dorje took many questions from the audience. One of the more interesting questions asked “What is origin of our consciousness? Where does the mind come from?” What a million dollar question I thought! Isn't this what every religious or spiritual tenet attempts to answer? He uses an analogy of a flower. What do you define as the beginning? The budding of the flower? Is it the germination of the seed? We really don't know he declared. With that, there isn't an origin, it just was.
It can take a lifetime for me to apply these learnings, but I guess that's the point of life, right? To live and learn.