Wednesday, July 20, 2016


#TBRChallenge Reading: Make Your Mind an Ocean by Lama Yeshe


2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Make Your Mind an Ocean
Author: Lama Yeshe
My Categories: Nonfiction, Spiritual
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Award Nominee or Winner (Lama Yeshe's books are very well-known in the Buddhist world and have won many awards.)

This is a book about Buddhist psychology. Buddhism looks within for solutions, not without, which is how modern western psychology works. "When your mind is narrow, small things agitate you very easily. Make your mind an ocean." This is the central advice from Lama Yeshe.

He was a Buddhist monk who studied in Tibet and Nepal. In the 1970s, he went out in the wider world to educate people about Buddhism. This book is a collection of four of his talks and long Q&As in Melbourne, Australia in March 1975. These are very much in the format of a wise teacher imparting wisdom to students.

The phrase he uses most often is "checking your mind", in other words, understanding your nature and using your own wisdom to solve your problems. He says that one must always question things. There's no concept of blind belief in Buddhism, unlike other religions. Buddhism believes in always questioning everything. "If you don't ask questions, you will never get any answers." They also believe that ultimately, your mind is your religion. If you want to be happy, you need to check the way you lead your life.

Sounds so commonplace, so obvious. And yet so difficult to implement in daily living. We like to think circumstances, things, people, and events cause us unhappiness. What Lama Yeshe says is that it's our internal makeup that makes us susceptible to these external stimuli. So if you're unhappy, look to yourself for the solution to your unhappiness. Most unhappiness comes from a dissatisfaction with something. Find out what that is. This is called Analytical Meditation.

Understand your mind by figuring out how it works: "how attachment and desire arise, how ignorance arises, where emotions come from, how it perceives or interprets any object that it encounters. Then check your mind by asking: When I perceive this kind of view, this feeling arises, that emotion comes, I discriminate in such a way. Why?" The basic assumption of Buddhism psychology then is that when you check your mind properly, you stop blaming things outside yourself for your problems.

Lama Yeshe is at pains to point out that wisdom should be the pilot of your mind. Thus you can direct your powerful mental energy to benefit your life instead of letting it run about uncontrollably like a mad elephant, destroying yourself and others." The more you question your mind, the more wisdom will provide you the answers. Because your basic nature is wisdom.

An interesting comment, Lama Yeshe made was that the greatest problems of humanity are not material but rather psychological. In certain circumstances, this is a difficult thing to agree with. When your belly is caved in and your bones are showing because you have not eaten in days, or you're shivering in the cold winter because you don't have sufficient clothes, then material things are paramount. But if you have food, water, shelter, and safety, then his comment stands true.

Thus, it is crucial to cultivate a healthy mind through continually questioning it and allowing innate wisdom to rise to the surface, thereby ensuring happiness and peacefulness for yourself and those around you.


8 comments:

Dorine said...

Excellent thoughtful review! This book seems to offer wise words than anyone can benefit from. Great choice for our award winner category this month. :)

Keira Soleore said...

Dorine, thanks for visiting and commenting. I was really struck by how simple the message in the book is and how complex at the same time and how difficult to implement.

azteclady said...

I love the idea of choosing to be happy vs 'letting life' make us unhappy.

However, and forgive me for bringing this up here, I wonder how that works for people with mental health issues (i.e., depression).

Keira Soleore said...

Not a problem at all about bringing this up, because this is the very thing that came up for me as I was reading. It's well and good, when you're under stress or unnecessarily navel-gazing but what if you're suffering from depression?

As far as I could understand from the lectures in this book, Buddhist psychology says that sometimes learning from a teacher helps with the inquiry process. Lama Yeshe says that he has helped guide some students on their own self-discovery. According to him (or Buddhism), the solution is always within you. But sometimes, you need a teacher to help you to uncover some of the obscuring layers.

What I also got from the book was that dissatisfaction with life as it was or as it is, is the lead cause for unhappiness. I took this to mean that previous trauma could lead to current dissatisfaction, and the Buddhist vanilla word "dissatisfaction" covers a whole host of strongly or weakly negative events and emotions.

Much like a modern-day psychiatrist functions as a guide, a Buddhist monk-teacher would serve as a guide. But what I really found unique in this approach that rather than blaming outside reasons, you look to within to find a solution. Only *you* can fix *you.* I like this ownership.

azteclady said...

I like the ownership as well, because it is true that we often indulge in behaviours that we know very well do us harm.

However, clinical depression, and other mental health issues, cannot be controlled by our own minds, and I wonder if that is ever addressed by Buddhist philosophers, and how.

Keira Soleore said...

Sorry for the long delay in my reply. From what I gleaned from this book, according to Buddhist psychology, everything is possible through the delving into one's own mind and guidance from a teacher, which is one aspect of dealing with mental illnesses: the counseling. However, Lama Yeshe doesn't address the big necessary ingredient of medication for mental illnesses in this book. So I don't know what his stance on that is, or Buddhism's stance on that in general. I'd be really curious to know more about it.

azteclady said...

I would like to know it as well; I appreciate the idea of ownership of one's own happiness, for many otherwise mentally healthy people manage to make themselves miserable, entirely needlessly. However, as much as good attitude and counseling may/can/do help, there are conditions that require medication for even the slightest improvement.

Thank you, Keira.

Keira Soleore said...

Thank you for this discussion, Azteclady. It always deepens my understanding of a text when I have someone else to discuss it with.