Buddhist Philosophy

Contentment and the Mind



A key teaching of Buddhism is contentment. To understand what this means, we need to see our own experience. Contentment is a state of mind. When we examine our own minds what do we find? Do we find contentment or stress?

In this teaching, Rinpoche asks us to investigate our minds. We can see thinking, emoting, and judging. We find habits and experiences and memories. When we are in a bad mood, what is it that feels that? The mind. When we are stressed it is also mostly the mind. The majority of stress comes from our mind. Buddhist teachings are designed to help us see this. We need to know that life is unpredictable. Life is like a roller coaster or the weather. We do not have complete control. Our future experiences are mysteries.

 

 Right now, our minds are like flags. When the wind blows, our minds flap back and forth. Little things can really bother us. We need to really examine our own experience to see that it is true. Rinpoche gives some simple examples of how we can be irritated by very small interactions or experiences.

Relax and Retrain

Once we understand that we are not in control, we can relax a little. We can then learn to retrain our minds. Instead of cultivating stress we can learn to be calm, centered, and grounded. We can train in contentment.

First, we can look at our situation and see how fortunate we truly are. Then, because we have the habit of negativity, we practice reminding ourselves again and again.  Don’t we notice that even when we are happy, we always add a “but?” We say, “I am content, but…” We can gradually retrain ourselves to put a full stop to that thought. That “but” thought represents a judgment. It is our mind flapping in the wind–reacting to tiny things.

When we learn how not to react, we are truly content. As we retrain our minds we can find true happiness. When we are content we have less attachment. Contentment is the basic characteristic of the arhat, the person who has transcended suffering.

Reflection Question

Can you recall a situation where you felt completely content? How long did that experience last? Try this week to notice, and to savor those moments of contentment. You don’t have to try to extend them, but do notice the moment when you start to say, “But, if only….”. Then just relax. How does that feel?

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.