Calm Mind, Perfect Ease

Speaker: Ven.Miao Xi

Fo Guang Buddhist Temple, Boston, U.S.A.

I. Introduction

Auspicious blessings to all, today’s topic is “Calm mind, Perfect Ease”.

First, let’s look at what does “calm mind” mean? It means a mind that is relaxed, peaceful and without worry. And why is this calm mind so important to us?  The answer is very simple : If we could sustain a calm mind, our lives would be at ease.

We all know, life is full of challenges. The world or phenomena is ever changing, and the changes are sometimes beyond our control. For instance, the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives not only physically but also mentally. Many people feel “overwhelmed” and this has caused lots of anxiety, stress and worries.

From the Buddhist perspective, we recognize the challenges, we know we can’t control the chaotic environment, but we can control the way we respond to what is happening. A calm mind plays a very important role, because only with a calm mind, will we know how to choose a good response that works best for us.

II. How To Cultivate A Calm Mind?

How do we cultivate a calm mind? I believe many of us will think of the word ‘meditation’. And yes, you are right, meditation is one of the wonderful practices to cultivate a calm mind.  In addition to meditation, what else we can do? Or how can we incorporate meditation practices into our lives to sustain a calm mind?

One very important way is to “Safeguard the Six Sense Bases” (six sense organs) . The six sense bases are eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. In daily lives, the six sense bases are continuously in contact with external phenomena i.e.: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mental objects, which enable the sensory system to function and help us navigate the world around us.

A Buddhist practitioner finds that our eyes always like to look out, our ears like to listen, nose likes to smell, tongue likes to taste, body likes to touch, mind likes to wander around.  This pursuit of outward actions often leads us to the increase of three poisons, greediness, hatred, and ignorance which has caused lots of worries and anxiety in life. Hence it is important to safeguard the six sense bases, to concentrate on pursuing inward instead of outward.

In the Connected Discourses (Saṃyukta Āgama), it states that there was once a Srgala, a fox-like animal that is smaller, who saw a turtle near the waterside and was about to snatch it for a hearty meal. The turtle quickly retracted its head and four limbs into its shell. The Srgala could not do anything except linger by its side and wait, hoping for turtle to stick out its head and legs to eat it. But the turtle persisted to keep its head and limbs into the shell. The Srgala waited a long time without success and eventually left, disappointed.

Buddha used the head, tail, and four legs of turtle as a metaphor for the six sense bases, not allowing them to be in pursuit of sounds and forms to avoid greed and desires within mind.

Nevertheless, it is important to realize that to safeguard six sense bases doesn’t mean we stop living, not seeing, not listening, not speaking.  But we act with a mindful mind, with right view, right thought, and we utilize the meditative concentration that we developed through meditation to balance our body and mind.

For instance, when we encounter something wonderful and it gives rise to great sensation, with meditative mind, we will not fall into the desire of greed; similarly, when we encounter something bad, with meditative mind, we can hold on to the irritation or frustration, and not give rise to more hatred.  And this helps to sustain an undisturbed calm mind, which helps our lives to be at ease.

In Japan, there is a famous pictorial maxim of the “three wise monkeys” at the Tosho-gu Shrine in Nikko, Japan. The first monkey uses his hands to cover the eyes, the second monkey to cover the ears, and the third to cover the mouth, which indicates “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”, and also include associations with being of good mind, speech and action.  

In Buddhism, practitioners always respond to the challenges in life in a very positive way, as they realize the concepts of impermanence, and the principle of cause and effect. With this realization, they make good use of the six sense bases to “Do no evil, practice all good”, to benefit not only oneself but others. For example, we use :

  1. Compassionate eyes to help build good relationships
  2. Patient ears to help enhance our wisdom
  3. A clear nose helps ensure good health.
  4. A complimenting tongue helps create joy.
  5. Beneficial deeds help bring good to others.
  6. A Buddha-like mind makes attainment possible.

Also, the practices of “Three Acts of Goodness” and the “Four Givings” advocated by the founder of Fo Guang Shan Monastery, Ven Master Hsing Yun, are righteous ways to promote all good. The Three Acts of Goodness are “do good deeds, speak good words, think good thoughts.” May we lend our hands for others, may we say words that are encouraging, may we bless, etc. And the Four Givings are “give others confidence, give others joy, give others hope, give others convenience”.  When we are willing to give, we are also practicing selflessness and equanimity which give rise not only to a happy and calm mind but to more compassion and wisdom.

III. Sustaining A Calm Mind

In addition to safeguarding the six sense bases, the contemplation of  Dependent Origination is essential to sustain a calm mind. When Sakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment, he realized the truth, which is Dependent Origination. Everything in this world is reliant on causes and supported by conditions to give rise to effects.  These effects, again become new causes, and when conditions aggregate, lead to other effects. Therefore, Buddhists believe that everything in this world is composed of causes, conditions, and effects.

What are causes and conditions? Before a cause transforms into an effect, conditions are needed. For example, a Sunflower seed, which is the cause, needs to be planted in soil along with numerous conditions such as sunlight, air, water, fertilizer before it can grow into a Sunflower. A sunflower seed would not grow on a laptop because the laptop is not its conditions. Hence, we know that cause with condition, will yield effect. And most importantly, positive causes with good conditions will yield positive effects, vise versa.

In the Agama Sutra, it states that “When this arises, that comes up; when this is present, that comes to be; When this is absent, that does not come to be, when this ceases, that is extinct”.  What does it mean? “When this arises” means causes & conditions arise. “That comes up” means we see the effect. “When this is absent” refer to there is no cause and condition. And “That does not come to be” refers to there is no effect and result. In short, it means there will be effects when there are causes and conditions, and vice versa.

Because we understand causes, conditions, and effects, we then realize that everything in life has its reason for coming about. In this way, we learn about self-responsibility, and become aware that “Trusting your feelings, or follow your heart” is often bad advice, as our feelings can too easily deceive us. To work in accord with the principle of dependent origination is the right way to live our life.

If we are willing to develop more good causes and conditions in everyday life, our lives become better and better. And with the “eye of wisdom”, we will be away from the entanglement of gains and losses, worries and attachment. When we are free from worries, we will be able to sustain a calm state of mind.

IV. Conclusion

Everyone deserves a calm mind and a happy life. A calm or a peaceful mind must be developed within ourselves. If we could safeguard the six sense bases and contemplate the truth of dependent origination, we are on the right path towards a calm, peaceful mind which leads to carefree lives. 

But of course, we know it’s easier to comprehend these ideas than practicing them. Persistence and perseverance are always the important elements, and for the sake of sustaining a calm mind & enjoying true happiness, it is worth practicing.

Finally, wishing everyone a peaceful, calm mind and life!

Thank you.