(5.17) Even those who wish to find happiness and avoid suffering
Will wander without meaning or purpose
If they do not practise training the mind,
The supreme and principal Dharma.
To find the happiness that we seek, the freedom that we seek, we have to train our mind in wisdom. If we wish for true happiness, real freedom, then we have to train our mind in wisdom. There is actually no other way. Our mind is unhappy because it is unpeaceful. It is unpeaceful because delusions have taken over. Wisdom opposes all delusions, making our mind peaceful and calm.
Delusions take control of our mind and then cause us to say or do things which we later regret. It only takes a few moments of anger, for example, to destroy even a lifetime’s worth of our closest relationships. It is only by learning to gain control of our mind, even in the most difficult and provocative of situations, that we can have any hope of being happy just in this life, much less in lifetimes to come.
This is hard too, because it is difficult enough to accept that our freedom and happiness depend upon our mind. We may know this, but have we yet accepted it? We still grasp at our freedom and happiness depending upon our bank account, whether we are getting along with our family, how we are advancing in our career. We are convinced these things determine our happiness and work unquestioningly towards their accomplishment. But no matter how much money we have in the bank, no matter how many people love us, and no matter how successful we are in our career, we still remain ill at ease. Yet, even when we are staring into the abyss of poverty, in the middle of huge conflicts with our loved ones and we have lost our job, if our mind is calm and peaceful, free from delusions, we are happy. This doesn’t mean we don’t try improve our external circumstance, it just means we don’t look to it to make us happier.
Here Shantideva is saying that my freedom and happiness does not just depend totally on my mind, but real freedom, real happiness, depends upon realizing ultimate truth. Do we realize this? Have we accepted this? The whole world, and all of our lives, are filled with all sorts of drama. Why? Because we think this is all real. We think all of this matters. In reality, it is just the dance of karmic appearances with nothing behind them. Nothing is actually happening. Nobody is actually there thinking anything about us. We have never gone anywhere. Yet it all seems so real, it all seems so important. As a result, we overreact to what appears and make everything worse. We are like somebody drowning, panicking, and flailing about, but in actual fact we are in 3 feet of water and if we could just calm down we would realize we could stand without trouble. Nothing is as bad as it seems, because in reality the things that seem to exist don’t. We of course still need to respond conventionally to what appears, but the sting of everything falls away. Knowing nothing is wrong (because nothing is happening) we are able to calm down, look at the situation in a peaceful way, and then respond with wisdom and compassion instead of ignorance and anger.
The test for whether we really understand the importance of ultimate truth is how often each day are we training in ultimate truth? If we are honest, we are still turning to other things as the source of our happiness.
That’s our responsibility then as bodhisattvas: with a deeply compassionate mind of Bodhichitta, we need to train in wisdom. To make spiritual progress we have to oppose at deeper and deeper levels the obstructions in our mind. We do this by training in the spiritual paths that are the opponents to our delusions. When delusions arise, we need to make an active effort to recall our virtues and recall our wisdom and use them to bring our mind back to a clear, peaceful, constructive, happy space. Hanging on to our anger, going over again and again all of the perceived faults against us and plotting our revenge are all minds that destroy our peace now and will take us to the lower realms later.
We need to know clearly what we need to abandon and what in our mind we need to cultivate. If we don’t clearly know these things, how can we heal our own mind? Once we have this knowledge we can actually set about the process of transforming our mind. We can begin the process of healing.