How to become the master of your mind
(Please note, I first published this post two years ago, but after coaching several people recently about family issues in the run-up to Christmas, decided to share it with you again…)
During the festive season, when you spend more time with close family, do you ever find yourself saying: “You’re really winding me up,”? or “She got on my nerves,”? or “They made me angry,”? Let’s explore whether that is really true. Or whether it means that you give all your power away so that other people or circumstances decide how happy you are. You may have spotted where I’m heading here and this post may help keep things more harmonious this Christmas…
Over 700 years ago, Nichiren Daishonin wrote: “One should become the master of his mind rather than let his mind master him.” This means we have the power to choose how we want to perceive and respond to a situation, rather than being tossed around by the ebb and flow of events. (That might of course include choosing to get angry or winding ourselves up, but the difference is, we know we have a choice.)
In modern psychology, this ability is often called ‘reframing’. As Auschwitz prisoner of war Victor Frankl famously wrote, in his book, ‘Man’s search for meaning’: “The one thing you cannot take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me.” Frankl’s situation was horrific – everything (seemingly) had been taken from him – family, friends, dignity, food, clothing and freedom. And yet he found the inner strength to master his mind when so many around him were losing theirs.
Nowadays though, our first instinct is often to change how we feel by shopping / drinking / comfort eating or other types of consumption. All of this contributes to extra global warming, by the way.
SGI’s second President Josei Toda without doubt developed an ability to change from the inside (much better for our beautiful planet…) describing Buddhahood in this way: “It is like lying on your back in a wide open space looking up at the sky with arms and legs outstretched. All that you wish for immediately appears. No matter how much you may give away, there is always more. It is never exhausted. Try and see if you can attain this state of life.”
Where was Toda when he experienced this state? On holiday? In a beautiful park in Tokyo? At the top of a Mount Fuji watching the sun edge below the horizon? None of the above. He was actually in solitary confinement in prison (for being a Buddhist).
All that you become begins in your mind
Buddhism says that all the situations in your life including (from a karmic perspective) what happens to you – all of your ‘be, do and have’ – begin in your mind, which is why it makes so much sense to ‘master your mind’. We can summarise ‘The Buddha Mind for dealing with challenges’ as follows:
- I created this situation, therefore I can create the solution
- Because life is precious, every ‘problem’ is a gift in disguise
- Therefore when faced with obstacles, “the wise rejoice and the foolish retreat”
- Any problem is your life asking to grow, say YES (instead of grumbling inside).
- Here’s a great chance (yes, another one) to get over your ‘smaller self’
- The lotus flower only grows in a muddy pond. Focus on the flower, not the mud.
- How can I use this to fulfil my life purpose?
- I will face whatever it takes to fulfil my personal mission in life
- This low life state (angry, grumpy, blue, resentful, frustrated…) absolutely does contain latent Buddhahood
- What is the ‘problem’ trying to stop me doing? Then Just Do It. Now. Darkness disappears when the sun of action shines
- Suffering and problems are a fact of life, for you, me, saints and sages
- Make your desire for Kosen Rufu (world peace) bigger, deeper and more sincere.
And if none of the above seem to be working, remember this famous quote from Nichiren Daishonin:
13. “And still I am not discouraged”.
To be strong is to master your mind
To master your mind is to instinctively and increasingly realise that all of the above is true. To constantly develop the strength to choose how you feel and develop a bigger all-embracing state of life whatever is happening to you. As Carl Jung wrote: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Daisaku Ikeda says: “True happiness is not the absence of suffering; you cannot have day after day of clear skies. True happiness lies in building a self that stands dignified and indomitable like a great palace – on all days, even when it is raining, snowing or stormy.”
So, see if you can chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo with this conviction: “I am not my past. I am not my psychometric profile. I am not the role I have played to survive so far. I am not the product of my childhood. I am not my job description. I am a Buddha. I am who I choose to become.”
Much more on all of this in my book, The Buddha in Me, The Buddha in You, available now for pre-order on Amazon UK.
19 Replies to “How to become the master of your mind”
Thank you so much for this beautiful & timely reminder! Loved it!
Just what I needed to read, David – thank you so much for your wisdom. Sue x
Thank you very encouraging…
Latent Buddhahood is in all the other life states and is the reason anyone can reveal their Buddhahood. The truth of this is what we strive for in the movement of Kosen Rufu…
Spot on Brett re ‘latent’ Buddhahood. The ‘mutual possession of the 10 worlds’ is a most profound teaching and one that I have not come across in any other religion, or in psychology, for that matter. Thank you for the reminder.
Great article. Thank you very much.
I especially love No.6.
Dave thank you so much for this, I have sent it out to my members here in St. Croix and across the world..it is timely and I can’t tell you how encouraging… This practice so ROCKS, and so do YOU…thank you for helping me to stay encouraged and to encourage others… Mele kalikimaka, hau’oli maka hiik hou
happy holidays, joyous kwanzaa.. ashe dani
Hi Dani, many thanks for your kind words and it is lovely to hear that you find the blog encouraging. Warmest wishes to you and your fellow members in St.Croix. D 🙂
Written with so much clarity. We all know the concepts but you manage to put all together so well. Am going to read it. Re- read it and share it. Thanks
Thank you Tooda for reading and sharing this. I write this stuff to remind myself of how great Buddhism is, so I can read it when I forget… D x
excellent , merci beaucoup et plein d’humour quel talent bravo vraiment !
I love your blog!! I’m Buddhist for 10 years now, but I always need some encouragement to overcome my struggles. I’m now grieving the end of a long relationship and this material fits perfect to help me to work through this pain. Please keep your mission with this blog!! Best regards!
many thanks for your kind comments and I am pleased that the blog is helping you at this difficult time. Yes, I will keep going! Let’s all keep going and win together!
I’m aware that this is a very delayed response to this post! It is also a rather lengthy one. But, I just really felt I wanted to write to you. I wanted to say a massive thank you for this blog.
I started chanting properly just over a year ago. I have had (maybe) the toughest and (definitely) the most incredible year of my life since. I had a lot of things I needed to confront and change about myself.
When I first read this blog I was just clawing me way out of a dark pit. I had been alternating between feeling extremely anxious, having several panic attacks a day (and night) to feeling incredibly depressed. I was struggling with my self-esteem and constantly doubting myself. I was convinced I was basically an awful human being and struggling to find hope or any meaning in life.
But… with encouragement from other practitioners in my district I kept chanting. Then one of them shared your blog. It really struck a chord with me. Particularly the “I am not the role I have played to survive this far…I am what I choose to become” part at the end.
I decided to chant with this in mind. When I started doing this I began to realise how little respect for my own life I have had. How I have spent my whole life trying to help other people be happy and focus on their needs instead of my own. And it made me realise how unhelpful that has been for both them and I. Because my motives for helping them were not really from a desire for them to be truly happy. I was simply seeking my own happiness from external things. It made me think that they would like me and not hurt me if I did nice things for them. (I was beginning to realise just how afraid of other people I was.) It also gave me a false sense of power and superiority. Thinking I was stronger and more able to solve problems/deal with hardship than they were.
But, it left me completely unaware of who I was and what I wanted. It made me doubt myself so much that I did many things which made me miserable. And I did them thinking that other people wanted me to. That it would make them happy and/or make them like me more. It did not! It led them to take advantage of me and then feel worse about themselves. Or leave them feeling they needed my help. When in fact they could help themselves.
Anyway, I continued to chant with that final quote in mind. “I am what I choose to become” And, I pushed through some very difficult obstacles to make some huge changes in my life. I ended a long standing relationship with a man who was lovely. But whom I did not love in a romantic or passionate way and who I had lied to (whilst lying to myself) about this for far too long. I also came to stop doubting my feelings of attraction toward women. And was able to face this and to share this with family and friends. I am now dating a woman and am discovering some things I was denying myself for a long time. I have learned to express my views and beliefs in an assertive way and feel that I have a right to do so. I have learned to ask people for help. I have learned that when I do people really appreciate the opportunity to help me! And I’ve learned that when I look after myself and allow myself happiness I am much more able to help others effectively.
I think most importantly I have realised that I had spent my life being afraid of living and resenting my life. That I was not appreciating what a precious gift my life is. I am now able to see just how precious it is. Not all the time, but certainly a lot of the time. I am learning to live every day feeling joy for being alive and for all the experiences and feelings that come with life.
I received Gohonzon on June 29th of this year. It was the happiest day of my life. I had no doubts. I knew it was completely the right thing to do.
And I keep that mantra in my mind when I chant “…I am a Buddha. I am what I choose to become.”
Thank you David. Thank you very much.
Please keep blogging!
Wow Katie, what a wonderful experience! I hope you will share it widely as it will be very encouraging to many people and is full of wise insights. I am delighted that my blog has helped you and I am sure your amazing human revolution will help other practitioners in the years to come. All best, David
Thanks for sharing your experience.. Its as though you were speaking directly to me. I needed this so badly in my life. Thank you. Thank you. Wishing you the best in all your endeavors. Thanks again
Thank you so much. Just read after it was shared by another Buddha :-). You have hit the nail on the head and I will put refer to it now to help me with what feel like a tsunami of issues on many levels. I think those problems are coming all at once to make me stronger in the end and to strengthen my faith. I know my mission is to help others but not to the detriment of my health and finally realised I need to look after myself first as I have allowed others to darken my light. The anger I have felt is my own and I am being compassionate to me. Nam myoho renge kyo.
Congratulations Angie on your ‘lightbulb’ moments and on taking ownership of your own feelings. This requires Wisdom and Courage – two of the three qualities of the Buddha, and you are also discovering Compassion for yourself, so that’s a hat-trick! All best wishes with your continued human revolution 🙂 David
Thank you for Writing these wonderful thoughts. Mastering your mind to be able to respond to any circumstances in life is essential. 🙂