Peace of Mind

People come to practice for many reasons. We may think we want answers to a question about this or about that. Or maybe we want to acquire something -- fame, fortune, a good partner. But without peace of mind, they are all empty. We could be sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon looking out at the most extraordinary view or in the Himalayas. But unless we have peace of mind, we're oblivious to it. We could be listening to the most beautiful music, but if we're agitated, there is no comfort, there is no solace in the music. So without peace of mind, it is impossible for us to fully enjoy or appreciate our lives. That is why, in terms of Buddhism, it's essential that we realize peace of mind.
Why are we not at peace? What happens when we find we are not peaceful? What are the characteristics of peaceful mind? We must make these questions our own if we want to understand and move out of our suffering.
Starting from The Four Noble Truths, the various elements of classic Buddhist teaching point to the end of suffering so that we can realize peace in our lives. From the Buddhist standpoint, we are without peace because we are ignorant of our true situation. Because of our ignorance we act unskillfully and struggle unnecessarily to realize peace in our lives.
In Buddhism our true situation is called Dharma. Dharma activity creates and dissolves everything we experience, everything we are. All arising is Dharma, from the smallest atomic element to the great cosmos, from the first stirrings of hunger in a newborn child to the loftiest concepts in particle physics. Everything is Dharma activity. In other religions this might be called "God activity."
The Buddha realized the truth of this and realized the nature of Dharma activity. He saw that when we act in opposition to Dharma activity we suffer, and when we move in accord with Dharma we are at peace. The teachings of Buddhism are intended to lead us out of our ignorance so that we can live our lives in accord with Dharma activity.
In the sutras and other Buddhist literature we have the recorded efforts of generations of teachers to help us realize Dharma activity as our life. Studying this teaching can greatly facilitate our progress in practice. But, in the flurry of everyday life, it is often difficult to call to mind, let alone practice, these teachings. It would be useful if we could identify some basic activity to guide or avoid as we move through the day.
We can identify one distinctive activity that is always present when we suffer. Consider this; whenever we suffer we have separated. This may not be obvious. If we look at examples of suffering within our own lives, we find that in every case we have separated from the moment. We may separate for a variety of reasons, but when we suffer we are separated.
Conversely, let us look at those rare moments when we feel a deep sense of peace. In each of these situations we feel a connection with the people and events of the moment.
How do we separate? Remember the Buddha's insight: everything is Dharma activity. In each moment our consciousness is filled with our experience of the world. Buddhism teaches that everything we experience, everything within our consciousness, shares the same nature. It is all Dharma activity. Yet within our consciousness, some things we dislike and want to avoid, other things we like and want to continue. This having a preference is not itself a problem. But we go beyond mere preference. We affirm, attach and identify with our desires. We assert ourselves. Being attached to a desire we cannot satisfy, we suffer. Being attached to our standpoint, we fixate, we separate from our experience. Once we fixate and separate, we suffer.
Our delusion is to think we are somehow separate from our consciousness, that we can objectify, dissect and discard aspects of our consciousness, our experience, and somehow remain whole.
For example, we come to the zendo for sitting practice, or perhaps we go to that special place in our house where we do zazen. We are drawn to the quiet and stillness. We relax into the openness of practice. But suddenly our next-door neighbor starts playing very loud music, or the children in the next room get into an argument. Suddenly we contract from feeling open and wish to change or remove part of our experience. It interferes with our desired experience of the situation.
Or, perhaps, yesterday's sitting was especially clear. However, today we feel like molasses. We want to revive yesterday's clarity, but we are stuck with today's dullness.
In both cases we become aware of our surroundings. From this awareness we recognize that our situation includes "undesired" influences. We can be resigned to the situation, we can try to change ourselves, or we can try to change our surroundings. We do something, perhaps skillfully, perhaps clumsily.
Buddhism teaches a wholly different basis for responding. Since everything shares Dharma activity as its nature, the overriding interest is our underlying unity with experience. We arise from oneness with the situation; we may perceive things as pleasant or unpleasant. Our origin and destination are the same: this moment's activity. The critical response is to return to this inherent relationship. Our perception, though known, is secondary to reestablishing relationship.
In both these approaches we momentarily objectify our experience. This is not the problem. But, having objectified our experience, we can move to solidify that objectification or we can merge with our experience. When we stand in our objectification we separate from our experience. We move from awareness of preference to assertion of judgment. This is the creation of human suffering. In both examples, if we move back into our experience there is no problem. We can dissolve into the music or a child's bickering as straightforwardly as we can dissolve into our breathing. We can re-enter our practice without attachment to our sense of clarity or dullness.
The present moment is this moment's Dharma. When we make judgments and interpretations about this moment we fixate ourselves as presumably separate from the moment. Standing within our apparent separation, we get stuck within our judgment and interpretation. Dharma activity always moves. The effort to fixate ourselves in the midst of this ever-moving Dharma runs against the nature of Dharma. The nature of all things, including ourselves, is Dharma activity - incessant change.
This doesn't mean that we cannot respond to circumstances. We can get up and close the window. We can settle the dispute between the children. We can bring fresh energy to our efforts in practice. What is critical is that we move back into relationship, in response to our momentary perception, without attachment to our view, position or desired outcome. We enter a new present moment and realize completeness with this new moment's Dharma.
The stronger our attachment to our views, values and objectives, the stronger our attachment to ourselves and the harder it is to wholeheartedly re-enter the flow of the moment. In its extreme, when we are completely filled with ourselves, we are simultaneously separate from our surroundings. At the other end, when we completely reenter our lives we can find the peace and contentment of a child.
Therefore, if we want a simple guide for how we should proceed in the midst of daily events, as soon as we notice our separateness, we can move immediately back into relationship. Peace of mind will not be found by dwelling in separateness. Peace of mind will only be found by living in relationship with this moment's wholeness.
By vainly clinging to our view in the midst of circumstances, we fragment our inherent wholeness. The price is loss of peace of mind. The peace that transcends life and death is only realized within complete relationship. The more we dwell in our views, opinions and values, the more we cling to our sense of separateness. When we have strong feelings towards a situation we must bring them into relationship with the situation, not attempt to impose them on the situation because "we know better." Bringing them into relationship means that they become part of the Dharma flow of the moment, subject to change and development along with everything else. Such is the flow of life; such is the way of Dharma.

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