What is a Religious Person?

By Lama Thubten Yeshe

It is a common mistake to think that a religious person is someone who is afraid of new and potentially challenging situations that might threaten their beliefs. As true religion is the very light of wisdom, why should a religious person ever be afraid of darkness? Similarly, the clean, clear light of wisdom-knowledge cannot be disturbed by confused and foggy states of mind. Nor is the spirit of scientific investigation in any way contrary to true religion. After all, scientific experiments do not contradict the light of the sun and moon, so why should they be opposed to the light of inner wisdom?
The weak - those who lack the discriminating eye of wisdom - accept religious beliefs passively. Having no background in philosophic thought and ignorant of the reasons supporting their faith, they experience great uneasiness when someone questions their beliefs. Such people often live closely guarded lives, fearful of encountering someone or something that might shatter their insecure spiritual foundation. This attitude, however, is not the fault of religion, but of their own limited understanding. True Dharma leads in exactly the opposite direction. It enables one to integrate all the many diverse experiences of life into a meaningful and coherent whole, thereby banishing fear and insecurity completely.
Of course, the type of philosophy and logical thinking that underlies true religious belief is not exactly the same as that taught in schools. Mathematical logic, for instance, enables you to deal with a certain strictly defined external problem in a reasonable manner. The problem is restricted in scope and the solution that is found completely satisfies. Dharma logic, on the other hand, has a much higher and more encompassing goal. It deals with inner problems and looks for solutions to the most important questions in life: how to find happiness and avoid suffering for oneself and others. When you arrive at solutions using such Dharma logic you find that you have not merely answered one isolated problem but have discovered the interrelatedness of many inner processes previously thought to be unconnected. This type of reasoning, therefore, is very demanding for you must continually cheek up and investigate the many bows and whys you uncover. But it is also ultimately more satisfying because it affects the very quality of your life.
How do you apply this inner Dharma logic? Perhaps you feel unhappy and as a result the thought of hatred starts to arise within you. Rather than observing this process passively or being swept along by it involuntarily, you should investigate what is happening. Try to discover why you are unhappy and cheek to see if hatred is an appropriate response. In other words, ask yourself whether what you are about to express will improve your situation or not. Making such an analysis is not an act of neurotic self preoccupation. Rather, it is a way to reveal the light of an answer to your problems.
Such questioning then is a process of causation in that it leads to a solution. It is the same as a scientist trying experiment after experiment in order to come up with the best answer to his problem. While making inner experiments, you should ask yourself a series of questions in the same way. By doing this properly you will develop and mature spiritually and as a result will overcome the uneasiness and dissatisfaction gnawing at your life. You will be able to analyse your growing hatred, for example, and discover not only its causes but an effective way to disperse and eventually eliminate it.
We often suffer from strong desire or craving for something. This arises from uncontrolled happy feelings experienced in relation to that object. When such feelings arise you have to check up and see clearly what is happening. It is very important to investigate why these happy feelings produce the uneasiness of craving and desire. Similarly, when you are unhappy try to discover why such a feeling leads automatically to hostility. Sometimes you feel neither happy nor unhappy about something. This medium feeling often leads to mental fogginess, an ignorant state in which you do not wish to be bothered about considering the object at all. These three ways of responding to your experiences are not always gross and obvious but often so subtle as to be barely noticeable. As humans we are under their influence at all times even though we are usually unaware of it. Therefore, if you wish to train your mind, you must sharpen your wisdom and become more conscious of what is actually happening within.
When you look closely at the main characteristics of your feelings and see how they function, you discover something very interesting. If I can make a statement here. All psychological problems come from feelings. When a happy one arises your uncontrolled mind is tossed here and there by it. When it is an unhappy feeling then of course your mind is uncontrolled and it is obvious that problems arise in its wake. Even medium feelings which are not particularly pleasurable or painful lead eventually to problems and sufferings. You wish to ignore whatever aroused those in-between feelings and therefore you avoid exploring its reality. This reaction of closing yourself off from something is the very nature of ignorance and is totally contrary to the development of liberating wisdom-knowledge.
While it's true that feelings produce desire, hatred and other psychological problems, this is only half the story. These psychological states in turn arouse further disturbing feelings. It is a circle. Each is the cause of the other and they all spin endlessly in our consciousness occupying nearly all our time and energy.