The Causes of Suffering – The Buddha Dharma Series

The first noble truth describes how life has suffering running through it and in the second truth Buddha gave some of the reasons for this suffering. There is not just one cause of our suffering, as there is not one cause of anything. Things come into being through a series of causes and conditions, and that is the same for our suffering. However, there are three main things that cause us emotional and psychological suffering, namely, the three poisons. They are clinging desire, anger and aversion and unawareness.

In the Dhammapada it states:

The one who protects his mind from clinging desire, anger and aversion and unawareness, is the one who enjoys real and lasting peace’.

Clinging Desire

Not all of our desires cause us suffering; only the ones we cling to. We may have a desire to help people, a desire to reduce our suffering or to improve ourselves. As long as we are not clinging to these desires there is no problem.

So, desire on its own isn’t the problem. The problem is our clinging and grasping at the things we desire. We wrongly believe that material things and people, such as family, friends and loved ones, can make us permanently and truly happy. However, if we take the time to investigate, we will find that these desires eventually lead us into a feeling of discontentment, sadness and loss. Why is that? It is because we have grown attached to the people we love or the things we own. Again, there is not a problem with loving the people close to us; the suffering starts once we get attached to them, believe they will be with us forever and their thoughts and feelings for us will never change. This simply isn’t the case.

You can test this theory out. Think of a time when someone not very close to you died. How did you feel? I expect you expressed your condolences but didn’t have too much sadness. Now think of a time when a member of your family, a friend or a loved one died. How did you feel? I expect you were devastated and extremely upset for a long time. So, what is the difference between these two deaths? Attachment. You were not attached to the first person and so did not suffer a lot when they died, but you were attached to the second person, and your clinging attachment is what caused you so much suffering.

We get attached to our belongings and believe they make us happy. We think we can buy happiness. The problem with that is our desires are never ending. Once we have something new, we start wanting something else. We never quite manage to buy the happiness we are so desperately seeking because there is no happiness inherent in material things. We just project happiness onto an object and then cling and grasp at this imaginary happiness, and we eventually suffer once the object is stolen or stops working.

There is no problem in wanting things and trying to make our lives more comfortable; the problem is clinging and grasping at these desires. So do not stop loving the people close to you or stop wanting to improve your life believing Buddha told us to do that—he didn’t.

Our clinging desires lead us to act in certain ways, such as being proud, jealous and protective, and this in turn leads to our discontentment. This is because our clinging desires lead us into action, which in turn leads us into discontentment. It is a vicious cycle. Buddha said:

‘From desire action follows; from action discontentment follows; desire, action and discontentment are like a wheel rotating endlessly’.

To break this cycle, we have to see that clinging, grasping and getting attached to people and material objects brings us suffering because things are compounded and are subject to change. If we can truly embrace this point and apply it to our daily lives, we will be able to reduce the suffering caused by this poison.

Buddha stated, ‘Human desires are endless. It is like the thirst of a man who drinks saltwater: he gets no satisfaction and his thirst is only increased.’ This is surely something we should be reflecting on.


Anger and Aversion – Aversion is the opposite to attachment and anger leads to hatred, discrimination, aggression and a lack of compassion. None of these are helpful. With desire we want to cling to objects, but with aversion we do the exact opposite. We spend all our time and energy trying to push the thing away we do not like. As with desire, we just need to let go, not hold on to this aversion. Don’t engage with it, hold it or repress it – simply acknowledge you have an aversion for it, understand that it is causing harm to yourself and others and find a way of letting it go.

Buddha said this about anger:

‘This fury does so cloud the mind of man that he cannot discern this fearful inner danger’.

Some say that anger is natural and should be expressed at all costs. This is because most people only see two ways of dealing with anger, that is, express or repress. Both are unhealthy. If you constantly express it, you will find that after some time it will become a habit and you will react angrily all of the time. If you repress it, you are just storing up trouble for the future. You may be able to keep it down for some time, but eventually it will surface and may even come back more violent and hurtful.

Anger is such a destructive emotion because we engage with it and let it take control of us. So, the Buddha had a different idea. He advised us to look at the anger and see where it comes from. It is not to be dealt with but observed. If we do this, we will see that it stems from our exaggerating the negative qualities of someone or projecting negative qualities that are not actually there, on to someone or something.

Two of the best ways of counteracting anger is patience and acceptance.

Patience—This is something we should cultivate. The best advice is to try and walk away from the situation that is making you angry. If you cannot do that, then you should not react straight away, but should first try counting to ten and spend a little time reflecting on the situation. This will give you the space to calm down and see things more rationally. Of course, this is not a simple thing to do when one is wrapped up in the moment, and this is where patience comes in. The most hurtful things are said in the heat of the moment, so defuse that moment with patience.

You could try watching your breath for a moment, use your senses to engage with what you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch or you could try reciting the word patience over and over again. All of these will give you a chance to calm down and build patience.

There is no evil like anger, and no courageousness like patience.  

Acceptance—This is accepting that people are the same as we are. Everyone is struggling to find their way in life. We strive for happiness, and so does everyone else. If we think in this way, a feeling of warmth, empathy and compassion will arise in us. If we are empathic or compassionate towards others, it is harder to get angry at them. This, again, takes time to master but is something we are all capable of.

Unawareness

Unawareness is a lack of understanding of the true nature of things, which leads us into wrong views. Buddha stated:

‘Because of their unawareness, people are always thinking wrong thoughts and always losing the right viewpoint and, clinging to their egos, they take wrong actions. As a result, they become attached to a delusive existence’.

As we are unaware of the true nature of the world, we start clinging to objects, people and ourselves, which leads to wrong actions and causes us to grow attached to our perception of reality.

Impermanence is something we understand on an intellectual level, but it is not how we live our lives. That is because we are unaware of the true implications of impermanence. 

Whatever is
born is impermanent and is bound to die.
Whatever is stored up is impermanent and is bound to run out.
Whatever comes together is impermanent and is bound to come apart.
Whatever is built is impermanent and is bound to collapse.
Whatever rises up is impermanent and is bound to fall down.
So also, friendship and enmity, fortune and sorrow, good and evil,
All the thoughts that run through your mind – everything is always changing.
(Taken from ‘Words of My Perfect Teacher’ by Patrul Rinpoche)

All compounded things are impermanent and if we look closely, everything is compounded. So, everything is impermanent. This may seem negative or depressing but actually it is a breath of fresh air. Let me explain.

The definition of compounded is ‘something that consists of two or more things combined together.’ As I have just stated, all phenomena are compounded, and that includes you and me. Just think for a moment, is there anything in this universe that isn’t compounded? As of yet we haven’t found anything.

The point Buddha was making here is that anything that is made up of a combination of other things will eventually fall apart. It will come into being when the various causes and conditions are right, it will exist for a certain amount of time, and then it will disintegrate – this is the nature of all things, this is impermanence. It is an undeniable and inescapable fact of life.

Impermanence isn’t a word we readily warm to, and it would be much nicer for us to believe that everything is permanent. But this simply isn’t true, and in order to stop our suffering, we need to acknowledge this fact. The reason we do not like to hear about impermanence is because it brings up visions of sickness, pain, disintegration and death. We get a horrible sick feeling in our stomachs because we equate impermanence with loss – loss of a loved one, loss of our friends or even loss of something as trivial as our iPhone. So, it is vitally important for all of us to understand impermanence.

Why is it important? What are the benefits of understanding it? It means we will achieve freedom from fear, freedom from suffering and freedom from panic, because when we know things are not going to last, we are free from any fear, agony or pain of losing something or someone.

Our mistaken belief is that things come into existence on their own, and last forever. This kind of mistaken belief causes us to cling to worldly possessions, such as material objects, the search for pleasure, recognition, honour and so on. It causes pride, attachment, aversion and arrogance to grow within us because we truly believe things are here to stay. We grow completely attached to the concerns of this life.

So, it’s a relief when we finally understand that everything is impermanent, and we can’t do a thing to change that fact. We can now let go and relax our grip on things – that’s a real breath of fresh air!

Impermanence is not only true for pleasurable things, but for painful things as well. Maybe someone you care for has died or left you, and you are sad and lonely. These emotions are also impermanent and so will, after time, also change. All the things we have aversion towards will only last a short time. Like the morning dew, it will all soon change and disappear.

Like the dew that remains
for a moment or two
On the tips of the grass and then melts with the dawn.
The pleasures we find in the course of our lives
last only an instant, they cannot endure.
(Taken from ‘Thirty-Seven Practices of All Buddha’s Sons’ by Thogme Zangpo)

So, the first noble truth stated that there is suffering flowing through our lives, and the second truth explains some of the causes. In the third truth Buddha explains that there is freedom from suffering. 

This truth is called by various names, such as nirvana, liberation, enlightenment and so on. It is hotly debated these days. Some think that if you reach nirvana you will never be born again, others think you will be reborn, but you can pick where. For people who do not believe in rebirth, they see it as something we can achieve in this lifetime. I have no idea who is right and who is wrong – it maybe they are all wrong.

People think that nirvana is like heaven, full of happiness, the opposite of this world. They image that there, the sun shines brightly every day, only ‘good’ people are around, one doesn’t have to work, there are no money worries, everybody is friendly, and every moment is filled with happiness.

However, this is just a projection of our dualistic minds, trying to fill heaven with all the things we like best. But what about all the things other people like and we don’t? I would want a heaven where no one eats meat, while others would want one where they could eat a big fat juicy steak every day. Do we each get a heaven of our own? I believe if people really gave some thought to their concept of heaven, they would understand they were just changing one conditioned world for another. That way, heaven, like this world, would be equally impermanent.

I am just going to give my own thoughts here and you can decide for yourselves what you believe. I will show you that there are two good bits of news in this third noble truth.

I feel that the best word to describe this third truth is awakening. We awaken from the sleep of unawareness. I do not see the process of awakening as some mystical or metaphysical thing.

Buddha said that awakening is the ‘highest happiness’, but he wasn’t talking about the mundane happiness we strive for in our everyday lives. He was talking about absolute freedom from unskillfulness, freedom from craving, attachment, desire, hatred and unawareness. All of this we can achieve in this lifetime by truly understanding the four noble truths and following the eightfold path. Once we start meditating on these teachings and turning them from knowledge to wisdom, we will start to change our actions of body, speech and mind.

This state of being awake can be reached by anyone, whether they call themselves Buddhist or not, in this very lifetime – you just have to put the effort and hard work in. That’s the first bit of good news.

The second bit of good news is we do not have to die to become awakened. It can be obtained during this lifetime. Death is irrelevant to this process. People feel like this life is full of discontentment and causes them nothing but suffering, and the only way out is death. They feel at death they will be miraculously transported to a better place. But the third truth is not talking about a place; it is the cessation of the three poisons, namely, desire, anger and aversion and unawareness. The Buddha defined it as ‘perfect peace’, or a state of mind that is free from craving, anger and other afflictive states. We can find this perfect peace in this body, on this planet and in this lifetime.

I honestly believe the third truth isn’t talking about a metaphysical thing, it isn’t a place to go to and we do not have to die to realise it. We just need to put in a huge amount of effort so we can extinguish our afflictive states of mind.

I will leave you to reflect on this third truth, so you can decide which version makes the most sense to you.

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The First Noble Truth – Buddha Dharma Series

Buddha‘s first teaching was on the four noble truths, and it still remains the very foundation on which Buddhism is built. It was these four realities that the Buddha came to understand during his meditation under the bodhi tree, and they provide a conceptual framework for all of Buddhist thought.

The first reality is ‘There is suffering.’ The word suffering here means a dissatisfaction, discontentment, an uneasy feeling running through our lives. This suffering can be divided into three parts, namely, the suffering of pain, the suffering of happiness and the all-pervasive suffering.

The suffering of pain is easy for us to understand, as it is our daily suffering. It is when we have a headache, cold, hangover and so on. This is physical suffering.

The second suffering is the suffering of happiness. Now this one is a bit harder for us to understand. When we are happy, we never think about suffering, but it is there just lurking around the corner. Let’s look at some examples:

You buy a new iPhone and you are so happy. You show it to your family and friends who are envious. You take this phone everywhere with you and use it every day to play games, surf the net, look at social media, watch films and so on. You could not be happier. Then one day you can’t find it. It has been stolen. Now that happiness you had has changed into sadness – this is the suffering of happiness.

Nothing in life is permanent and so will eventually change. It is this change that brings on the second type of suffering. It isn’t that phenomena have inherent suffering within them, it is because we get attached to things and when change arrives, we become sad, discontented and this is the suffering of happiness. So, I am not saying happiness is suffering. While happiness is here, we enjoy but once the happiness starts to wear off, we start to suffer.

The third suffering is the all-pervasive suffering. This type of suffering is within everything in our lives, but because it is suffering on a subtle level, we are prone to missing it. This type of suffering is a condition that exists because of how we perceive ourselves in relation to the world. So, you could say that our entire worldly experience is a definition of suffering that we cannot even see.

So how do we see ourselves and the world? Well, we see them as separate – I’m here and the world is outside of me. In other words, as subject and object. So, the way we look at things, subject and object, me and everything else, is in some way the cause of our suffering that will come to us in the future. It is like eating a wonderful meal but not knowing it has been poisoned. Whilst we are eating the food, we are happy, but later, once the poison starts to work, we suffer.

Another cause of this all-pervasive suffering is seeing ourselves as a solid, independent self and thinking that this self is how we experience the world. Buddha taught that this is not the case, and we are actually the coming together of five things, namely, the five aggregates.

The aggregates are form, feeling, conception, mental formation and consciousness.

Form, or matter, corresponds to physical factors and not only includes our own bodies, but also the material objects that surround us. It includes the five physical sense organs and their corresponding physical objects. The five physical sense organs are eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. Their corresponding objects are visible form, sound, smell, taste and touch.

Feeling is the second aggregate and it can be divided into three different types of experience, namely pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. One of these three are present in every moment-to-moment experience.

There are six kinds of experience, five physical and one mental. The experiences happen when your eye contacts with a visible form, your ear with sound, your nose with smell, your tongue with taste and your body with any other tangible object. These are the five physical experiences. The mental experience is when your mind is in contact with mental objects, such as ideas, hopes, wishes and thoughts.

Our feelings are extremely important as, in the end, they determine what we experience and how we respond. We all want good feelings and try to avoid bad feelings. However, because we cling desperately to happy times, we become sad and disillusioned when they end.

The third aggregate is conception, and this is where we attach a name to an experience. Here, we formulate a conception of an idea about the object we perceive. The purpose of this aggregate is to analyse and investigate. When we come into contact with an object, our conception aggregate categorises it by shape, colour, motion, location, sex and other such categories. These concepts can come from parents, school, society, friends and other social groups. Everything we have learnt or are learning form our concepts.

The fourth aggregate is mental formation. It is the impression created by previous actions. This aggregate starts in the mind and is then reflected in our body and speech. That means whatever action we do is part of this aggregate.

Maybe a better way to call this aggregate is mental formation and volition. Volition is the capability of conscious choice, decision and intention. So, the mental formation stems from our past, and volition, from the present moment. Both function together to determine our response to an object of experience. These responses have moral consequences in the sense of skilful, unskilful and neutral acts.

The final aggregate is consciousness, which is very powerful. From this stem the third and fourth aggregates. It is mere awareness of an object. When the eyes and a visible object come into contact, the eye consciousness will become associated with that object and visual consciousness will arise. It is the same with all the six consciousnesses.

It should be noted that consciousness is not personal experience, but merely awareness of an object. Personal experiences are produced through the functioning of the feeling, conception and the mental formation aggregates. These aggregates turn mere awareness into a personal experience.

Let’s put this all together. Your eyes see the form. Your consciousness becomes aware of it. Your conception identifies it. A pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feeling arises. Your mental formation makes you respond to it with a conditioned reaction, stemming from your past. So, for example, you are walking down the street and see a car you like driving by – this is the form aggregate. Your eyes become aware of it – this is the consciousness aggregate. You perceive it as a car – this is the conception aggregate. You feel happy, unhappy or neutral – this is the feeling aggregate. If you feel happy you may stop and stare, if you dislike it you may turn away and if you are neutral you just carry on your way without another thought – this is the mental formation aggregate.

Buddha called them the five clinging aggregates, and this is where the problem comes for us. We cling to these aggregates as though they are the self – a solid and permanent you. When these five aggregates come together, we experience the world, but when they disperse we stop experiencing the world. He also taught us that there is absolutely no experience other than these five aggregates. These aggregates are ever-changing and so there really isn’t anything solid for us to cling to. When we try to cling to them as a permanent self we suffer, and this is what Buddha was pointing out in the first noble truth.

The reason he taught the first noble truth was to help us understand that we have a problem. If we don’t know we have a problem we will not look for a solution. It is the same as if we don’t know we are sick we will not go to the doctor. If we know we are sick we go to the doctor and he tells us what is making us sick and gives us medicine to cure it. It is the same here. If we know we are suffering, we will look for the cause and the cure, which are the other three noble truths. It is extremely important to fully understand this first noble truth. If we do understand it, we will be able to move on to the next noble truth – the cause of our suffering.

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The Five Precepts – The Buddha Dharma Series

I have been asked on numerous occasions to lay out, in an understandable manner, the teachings of Buddha. So, over the coming months I will articulate the Buddha dharma in an order that I hope you will find both informative and easy to understand and implement. I am going to begin with the five precepts.

Gautama Buddha said:

‘Now, there are these five gifts, five great gifts—original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning—that are not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and are unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives and Brahmans.’

So, what five gifts was he talking about? He was talking about the five precepts.

The precepts are the gateway into Buddha dharma. They are like the training wheels on a kid’s bike. That doesn’t mean they’re elementary and easy to do, because they’re not. They are also not commandments and we are not being told ‘thou shalt not’ do something. They are more like guidelines that will help keep us on the straight and narrow. If we follow these guidelines, we will not bring harm to ourselves and others. These guidelines are undertaken so we can work towards reducing our suffering and the suffering of all beings – this is a theme that runs all the way through the Buddha dharma. If we really want to be a responsible person within society, we have to ensure we are not harming anyone or anything. These five precepts will help us achieve that goal.

I have told this story before, but I believe it is helpful to mention it again. When I first decided to become a Buddhist monk, I was given these five precepts and told to hold them for six months. After six months I had to return to my teacher and discuss how I got on. Only after that was I allowed to take my full vows. I found them easy to understand, but not so easy to keep on a day to day basis. I would recite them before I got out of bed each morning as a kind of a mental reminder and to set my intention for the day. If I strayed during the day, which I invariably did, I would retake the precepts and strengthen my resolve not to break them again. Having this experience has helped me understand how hugely important these precepts are, and what a great springboard into the Buddha dharma they are.

The precepts are:

  • Refrain from taking life
  • Refrain from false speech
  • Refrain from taking what has not been freely given
  • Refrain from harming others with the sexual act
  • Refrain from intoxicants and illegal drugs

The Dhammapada (verses 246–247) explain the precepts in this way:

‘One who destroys life, who speaks untruth, who takes what is not given, who goes to another man’s wife or woman’s husband, who gives himself/herself to drinking intoxicating liquors, he/she, even in this world, digs up his/her own root.’

So, let’s go through each precept individually, but bear in mind these are my interpretations and may differ from a more traditional approach. I have tried to make the precepts relevant to today’s world and I have also added my own personal perspective. As with all Buddha dharma, you will have to decide for yourself what does or doesn’t work for you.

Refrain from taking life

This one seems obvious, but it means more than not killing other humans; it includes all sentient beings. It also covers refraining from getting others to kill on your behalf.

For me this goes much further than just killing. I personally believe it covers not eating meat, mindlessly killing insects, picking flowers and cutting trees. It means being mindful of all of Mother Nature’s inhabitants and their contributions to our ecosystem. I believe we should reflect before we chop down a tree, pick a flower or squash a bug. Remember, all actions have consequences, some may be seen and others unseen, but there will be a consequence somewhere down the line.

Everything on our planet has an intention for living, being peaceful, happy and not suffering and their lives are just as crucial as our own when it comes to maintaining our world. 

This precept, for me, means not causing harm to humans, animals, plants and all other living things.  

It is talking about intentional killing and not unintentional killing. It is impossible to go through life without unintentionally killing things. If you go for a pleasant walk across some fields, you will be unintentionally killing small insects. Your intention was to go for a walk, it wasn’t to kill insects, so this precept is not talking about that. Having said that, we must be careful wherever we walk and make sure we don’t mindlessly step on insects.

On a personal note, this precept is talking about not killing or harming things, and so I find it hard to accept the fact that we are breeding animals, keeping them captive and then killing them for food. Eating meat and adhering to this precept are not compatible. I understand this precept is a guideline and not a commandment, but I would ask you to please spare the animal a thought and try to work towards becoming a vegetarian or vegan.

Refrain from false speech

Words hold power and using them carelessly can cause destruction.  Do not say anything until you mentally confirm it to be true, helpful and kind. Don’t gossip, exaggerate or lie. Instead, practice responsible honesty with only good intentions. Dedicate yourself to loyalty and share only useful and credible news and information. 

Once we have lied to someone, we invariably have to tell another lie to cover the first one, and then another, and another, until we have created a web of lies. Before we know it, we have unwittingly become a liar and that is a label that is difficult to shake off.

I know that people say they lied so as not to hurt the other person’s feelings, but do they consider how that person will feel when they find out they have been lied to? Maybe the truth is painful or difficult to say, but it is possible to say it in a kind and sympathetic way. You can support them once you have told them the truth. I believe, it is always kinder in the long run to tell someone the truth.

On a personal note, I get upset when I have been lied to, as most people do, and so I keep this fact in mind when I am talking to others.

Refrain from taking what has not been freely given

Do not take what has not been given to you, whether it’s materialistic, opportunistic or emotional. There are a number of activities that are considered stealing, including participating in underhand deals, fraudulent activities, cheating or committing forgery. Borrowing another person’s belongings without permission is also considered forms of stealing.

If we take something that has not been given or belongs to someone else, this is stealing. It may be a pen from work, a magazine from the doctor’s waiting room or fruit from someone’s orchard. No matter how big or small, it is still stealing.

We seem to have accepted certain forms of stealing and do not see it as a problem. I am talking about taking things from our place of work, such as stationery items from an office, bread or milk from a catering establishment and nuts and bolts from a factory. We shouldn’t fool ourselves: these things have not been given to us, and so it is stealing.

Again, on a personal note, I believe taking eggs from chickens and milk from cows constitutes taking what has not been freely given. The animal has had no choice in this process and so I feel it is a form of stealing. As I have said before, these precepts are not hard and fast rules, so you have to see how far you are willing to go to adhere to them. I am just giving my own personal view point here and you are free to take it or leave it..

Refrain from harming others with the sexual act

Generally speaking, this precept refers to committing sexual indiscretions such as adultery, rape, incest and sex with a minor. If we physically, emotionally or mentally force someone into sex, this is causing him or her harm. There are many people today still carrying the scars of sexual misconduct. So, this precept should not be taken lightly.

I personally believe that Gautama Buddha taught the precept on sexual misconduct to help us refrain from harming someone through the sexual act. He did not teach it to be moralistic or make people feel guilty for their sexual orientation. If the sexual act is not going to cause harm it should be consensual, affectionate, loving and not break any marriage vow or commitment. It does not have anything to do with sexual orientation. We cannot choose our sexual orientation, as we cannot choose our race or gender, so it is cruel to penalise someone for something out of his or her control.

I think another aspect of this precept that should be looked at whilst considering sexual misconduct is people trafficking, that is, taking people and forcing them to enter the sex industry. It is estimated that around 1.2 million children are forced into prostitution or pornography, and their average age is between twelve and fourteen years old. The human suffering in the trafficking industry is staggering.

Refrain from intoxicants and illegal drugs

The last precept is to avoid abusive use of alcohol and avoid illegal drugs altogether, as well as other substances that impact mindfulness and fuel irresponsibility.

I have deliberately put ‘abusive use’ of alcohol because I believe drinking in moderation is not a problem. Nobody is saying you cannot have a glass of wine with dinner or a pint after work. What is being said is that when we are completely inebriated, we lose control of our body, speech and mind. This precept is quite often the cause of the previous four precepts, so is very important to adhere to.

You may be driving home under the influence of drink or illegal drugs and have an accident and kill someone; you may steal money to cover our drink or drug addiction; come out with a pack of lies because you have no control over your mouth; or have unsafe sex with someone you met in a bar, not even considering that you or they may be married, underage or haven’t consented.

Alcohol and illegal drugs are very additive and can destroy your life and the lives of those around you. So, it is important to ensure we don’t lose control of our thought processes because we are under the influence of drink and drugs. 

These are the guidelines Buddha advised us to follow and I believe they are of great help to us in life and on our path to follow the Buddha dharma. It goes without saying that we will fall short sometimes, but that is all part and parcel of the learning process. If you fall, get up and try again. Don’t give up. The more we try to adhere to these precepts, the more they will become a habit, and those habits will eventually become our behaviour, who we are. We all need boundaries in life, and I think these five are a wonderful starting point.  

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Why Did That Happen?

Buddhism does not talk about destiny or god’s will. Instead, they understand that things happen through a complex web of causes and effects.

Let’s start at the basics. If you plant a rice seed, you will get rice. You won’t get wheat or tomatoes. So, the cause of rice is the rice seed. Things do not just appear without a cause. For example, look at yourself, you are here because of our parents. You didn’t just miraculously appear. You were born because of cause and effect. Now, all of this is probably easy to understand, but it’s when we go a bit deeper people start to get confused.

When I teach this subject people always say, ‘If everything comes from a cause, why did this happen or why did that happen.’ The truth is there isn’t usually just one cause. Let’s take the rice seed again. The rice planet cannot just grow from a seed. It needs soil, water, air and many other things. So, there isn’t just one cause. There are so many causes each crossing over each other like a giant spider’s web. This is why it is quite often impossible to find out why things did happen. But that isn’t good enough for us humans, we want answers and that is why it is easier to dismiss things as simply destiny or god’s will than it is to understand cause and effect.


I like this teaching because it stops me playing the blame game

Let me give you an example. Ruth is always woken up at 7.00 a.m. by her electric alarm clock. She washes, gets dressed, has a cup of coffee and is out the door at 7.45. She walks down the road to the bus stop, which usually takes 10 minutes, and she crosses the main road and catches the 7.55 bus to work.

On this particular morning, her alarm did not go off because there was a power cut. This meant she didn’t get up till 7.30. She quickly washed, dressed and ran out of the door at 7.50. It was raining so she had to go back inside for her umbrella. This made her even more late. As she was running down the road, she saw the bus pull up. At the same time, Dave was going into work early because he had a lot to do. His wipers needed replacing and so he couldn’t see very clearly. Ruth in her desperation to catch the bus, ran out in front of Dave. He didn’t see her and so ran her over.

Now, Ruth’s friends will say the cause of the accident was Dave’s fault, and his friends would say it was caused by Ruth. But let’s look at all the causes that led to the accident. The power cut, alarm clock not working, Ruth getting up late, it was raining, so she had to go back inside to get her umbrella, Dave going into work early, his wipers not working properly, Ruth running in front of him and him not seeing her. So, you can see it is not always clear what causes things to happen. All we can say is that there was a cause or causes and it wasn’t destiny or god’s will. 

Another thing people tend to say is, especially if they are talking about karma, which is just another way of saying cause and effect, ‘If you do good, good things will happen to you, and if you do bad, bad things will happen to you.’ Well, this would be true if we all lived in our own personal bubbles, but we don’t. What you do will affect others, and what they do will affect you.

This is why good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. It is because we all get affected by other people’s actions. So, the cause of your bad fortune may not even be your fault. Here is an example, you may be the best driver in the world and you always stop at red lights and you never go above the speed limit. Again, that would be fine if you drove around in a bubble. But we don’t and we could end up having an accident because of someone else’s bad driving. So, the cause of your accident was their dangerous driving of someone else. The effect was you ended up with a damaged car.


Once you understand the concept of cause and effect, so many other things

start to fall into place

For me, I like this teaching because it stops me playing the blame game. I understand that there is not going to be one thing or person I can say caused what happened. So, that stops me asking why, why, why. It also teaches me that whatever action I take there will be a consequence. So, I always think before I act.

I understand this concept may seem a little difficult to understand at first, so I would suggest you contemplate it during your meditation practice. While meditating ask yourself questions like this:

Can things appear without a cause?

Can things have more than one cause?

Do my actions have consequences?

I can assure you, once you understand the concept of cause and effect, so many other things start to fall into place.  

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.



Buddhism Guide Crisis Resource

Listed below are videos, podcasts and guided meditations that have been taken from Buddhism Guide archive. They have been specially selected to help you during difficult and challenging times.

Coronavirus: Coping Mindfully

The Coronavirus is making many of us work from home or self-isolate. This can cause mental health issues and even lower our immune system. In this video Yeshe Rabgye introduces various mindful meditation practices that will help you deal with anxiety and a sense of panic. View the video here.

Guided meditation to reduce coronavirus fear and anxiety

The world is going through a very challenging time, due to the Coronavirus. Many people are becoming sick and having to isolate. This is causing huge amounts of fear, anxiety and panic. All of these ultimately stem from our minds. It is not possible to control the spread of the virus, but it is possible to control our minds and the way we respond to it. This guided meditation will help you deal with your thoughts of fear, anxiety and panic by showing you they are just thoughts and so we can learn to let them go. View the video here.

Let’s practice together through the crisis: Livestream #1 Breathing Awareness Guided Meditation

This video was recorded live and Yeshe Rabgye leads you through a guided meditation on breathing awareness. View the video here.

Let’s practice together through the crisis: Livestream #2 Compassion Meditation

This video was recorded live and Yeshe Rabgye leads you through a guided meditation on compassion and explains the importance of such a meditation during these difficult times. View the video here.

Let’s practice together through the crisis: Livestream #3 Forgiveness Meditation

This video was recorded live and Yeshe Rabgye leads you through a guided meditation on forgiveness for you and others. He also explains that forgiveness is to help ourselves let go and move on. View the video here.

Guided Meditation to release stress, anxiety and obsessive thoughts

Whenever you blindly follow each and every thought that arises it is easy to become stressed, anxious or even obsessive. This beautifully crafted meditation gently guides you through a process of seeing your thoughts like a flowing river. By letting your thoughts come and go naturally you are able to simply observe the thoughts and not get tangled up in them. This takes the pressure off of your mind and allows you to relax and untangle from obsessive thoughts. View the video here.

Guided Meditation – Letting go of anxiety

This is a mindful body scan meditation. It will gently guide you through different parts of your body. If you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, stressed or are over-thinking it will help you let go and refocus. View the video here.

Dealing with Isolation: Podcast

In this podcast, Yeshe Rabgye gives us some very useful tips on how to deal with working from home or being in isolation. Please stay home and stay safe. Listen here.

Emotional Suffering: Podcast

What would you say if I told you the largest part of your emotional suffering was caused by yourself? I expect you would be doubtful or even shocked, but it is true. The way we live our lives, our beliefs, biases, concepts and social conditioning all cause us to mentally suffer. By suffering I mean our minds get disturbed, we become disillusioned, dissatisfied, discontented. This often results in stress, anxiety and depression. None of these are helpful or healthy. Listen here.

Ambrosia of Mindfulness: Podcast

This podcast was recorded live at the Prajna Meditation Centre, Northern India. In this episode Yeshe teaches mindfulness from The Hundred Verses of Advice. Listen here.

How to Reduce Your Suffering: Podcast

In Buddhism, there is a practice called Mind Training and within this practice there is a section on reducing one’s suffering. Now, suffering here means a dissatisfaction with life, an unease, a discontentment and a feeling that life could be better. The following four methods are described in mind training as the best way to stop the suffering of all beings, and bringing them, and ourselves, happiness. Of course, we have to be realistic and understand that life is not always going to be happy, and it is an unsatisfactory part of life that suffering is always lurking around the corner. However, these four methods will help to reduce our suffering and give us the tools to be able to cope with whatever comes our way. Listen here.

Cultivating Patience: Podcast

Patience is a virtue and needs to be practiced. In this podcast Yeshe Rabgye explains the best way to cultivate your patience. Listen here.

How to Deal with Intense Emotions: Podcast

In this podcast Yeshe Rabgye explain the R.A.I.N technique, which allows us to mindfully deal with our strong emotions. Listen here.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.



Dealing with Isolation

So many of us are having to work from home or self-isolate and we are starting to get overwhelmed by it all. That is no surprise because being confined in our homes for days on end can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. We start to over think and focus on the negative and forget the blessings. If you have an obsessive nature or are prone to anxiety attacks, this time can be particularly difficult for you. So, what can we do? Here are a few things you may like to try.

Keep to your routines

It may be tempting to stay in bed longer, go to sleep later, not wash and get dressed or eat at wrong times. All these things will eventually lead to a feeling of desperation, despair and it could even lead to depression. Try to stick to your normal routines where eating and sleeping are concerned. In other words, try to do what you usually do, but without going outside. It would be helpful to create a plan for each day and try to stick to it. As human beings, we crave a little structure – so coming up with a plan for each day will help pass the time and give you a sense of control.

Don’t overdo your devices

Doing a digital detox and limiting the amount of time spent on your phone or laptop can help reduce anxiety and prevent you from feeling negative.

I understand that stopping using your phone completely isn’t very practical, so set yourself time limits. Make a commitment each morning to only use your phone at certain times and for a set duration. Maybe, 30 minutes in the morning, again in the afternoon and then in the evening.

It is true to say that social media can be a great way to keep in contact with friends and family during self-isolation, but we must keep in mind that overuse is known to have a detrimental effect on mental wellbeing.

News overload

There is such a thing as being too well informed. News overload can cause a lot of anxiety and stress. As with social media, you should limit your exposure to it. Rolling news only unsettles us. So, limit your news updates to mornings and evenings.

Start a hobby

There may be something you have wanted to start doing for a long time. Now is the perfect time to start. You could learn cooking, painting, sewing, writing or podcasting. It will not only keep your mind occupied; it will also teach you how to be mindful. When we are focusing on something it prevents our minds from wandering off to dark places.

Do daily exercise

It is a well-known factthat exercising releases all-important endorphins which boosts our mood. There is no need to set up a home gym. You could do Tabata, Pilates or Zumba – there are many good videos on YouTube that will help you with this.    

Get some fresh air

You may be in isolation, but it doesn’t mean you have to shut out fresh air. If you have a private garden, then go outside each day. If you have a balcony, go and sit on that. If all you have is a window, then open it wide and go and sit next to it. Just feeling the sun on your face and breathing in fresh air will boost your mood and help you shake off mental health issues.

Time to meditate and be mindful  

Meditation and mindfulness are great ways to banish feelings of anxiety or restlessness. When we allow our thoughts to control us, they can take us into some deep, dark places, especially when we are having to isolate. So, meditation and mindfulness help us to take back control of our minds.

One reason to meditate is to stop the endless chitter chatter in your head, and to find the stillness and silence that lurks within. It will help you let go of those destructive thoughts that lead to anxiety and panic. In this guided meditation called ‘Allowing Your Thoughts to Flow,’ you will learn to see thoughts as just thoughts and so you don’t need to blindly follow everyone.

Mindfulness practices will also bring your mind back under your control through bringing awareness to whatever you are doing. The quickest and most simple way to bring yourself into the present moment is to watch your breath or your five senses. All you need to do is stop whatever you are doing, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Just become aware of it flowing in and out of your body. There is no need to judge or change the rhythm of your breath, just observe it. You could also focus on what you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Again, do not judge, just observe. So, look around you at five things of different colour, touch four different textures, listen to three different sounds, become aware of two different smells and see if you can taste one thing in your mouth,  

Both these practices will bring you into the present moment and help you to stop fixating on the past or the future.  

All of these points may sound quite simple, but even the smallest of changes to your daily life can bring about substantial results when it comes to our mental health.

During this time of isolation, I am conducting live mindful meditation practices on The Buddhism Guide Facebook page, so go to their page and check out the timings. If we can’t connect personally, at least we can do it virtually.   

Please stay safe, stay healthy and stay informed.  

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.