The Enlightened Mind — Explanation and Application
What is the biggest challenge, obstacle, or problem you face right now? Do you know how to solve it?
Most people try to change their circumstances, but that rarely works out. Consider these examples:
- People have problems with their romantic partner. They decide to change a partner. But they continue to have problems with each successive partner.
- People have problems in their job. They decide to change jobs. But they still continue to struggle in their new jobs.
- People are stressed and unhappy. They decide to do something different and make changes to their life. But after a while, they are still stressed and unhappy.
We all want to be happy, productive, and thriving human beings, yet most of us are working so hard towards the wrong direction, which leads to more misery. Changing circumstances usually does not work and is a band-aid solution at best; it does not permanently resolve our suffering. So what should we do then?
The Buddha said,
“Everything arises from the mind.”
Quantum physics has also proven that our mind manifests our physical reality, which I wrote about in detail here. Therefore, if we change our mind, outer circumstances will naturally change in response. This is called “solving the problem from the root”. Specifically, the Buddha teaches us to replace our ordinary (non-enlightened) mind with the Bodhi (enlightened) mind.
What is the enlightened mind? Venerable Master Jing Kong explained five traits of the enlightened mind:
Remember that big problem you thought of earlier? Keep on reading and see how you can apply the enlightened mind to solve it from the root. We will go through the five traits first, then look at some examples to bring theory to life.
Sincerity means to be single-mindedly dedicated towards something. We do it with all our heart, mind, and soul. We are not distracted by other thoughts.
How do you know if you are being sincere? Here are three aspects:
- Sincerity leads to creativity
- Sincerity leads to determination
- Sincerity does not have a change of heart
The opposite of sincerity is insincerity. Shocker, right? OK, let me explain more. An insincere mind does things for show, for external validation. Since they are not sincere about it, when they encounter difficulty, they won’t think of creative solutions or be determined, and they easily have a change of heart.
A pure mind is tranquil and free from what the Buddha calls “the five poisons”. The five poisons are
*Note: Greed refers to selfish desires beyond what is necessary. Wanting to have basic living standards is not greed. Wanting to better the world is not greed. Wanting a fancy car to impress others is greed.
Our suffering, sadness, and frustration all arise from the five poisons. For example, why do we get sad or angry? Because we want something badly (greed) and cannot obtain it. Why do we have conflict with others? Because we think we are above them (arrogance), but they are not obeying our will (greed), then we say hurtful words (anger). Why do we have conflict with ourselves? Because we act according to our bad habits (stupidity) and don’t believe in ourselves (doubt).
To give an analogy, our body feels uncomfortable when we have a lot of dirt and sweat on our skin. Similarly, the five poisons will make our mind suffer. Most people try to resolve their suffering and seek happiness by adding things to their lives. They might eat delicious food, watch emotionally riveting movies, buy stuff, or play video games. These lead to temporary emotional stimulation, then an emotional crash.
Buddhism teaches us to get rid of the five poisons. What’s left? A tranquil, peaceful state of mind.
This is aligned with the enlightened mind. The enlightened mind gives us real, long-lasting happiness right here and now. You don’t have to change the outside circumstances or wait for the future, you can have your tranquility and happiness now.
Equality is about respecting everyone and everything equally. To give an analogy, our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and tongue are all different, but we respect them all equally. Similarly, everyone in society plays a different but important role. We should respect the janitor as much as the CEO, the restaurant worker as much as the president, the Buddhist as much as the Christian, and so on.
The opposite of equality is arrogance and superiority. As soon as one person thinks he is above another and starts treating others with discrimination, conflict arises. When conflict grows, disorder and fear arises.
Even if others treat us with discrimination, we need to treat them with equality. Why? Firstly, WE are the ones that want to have enlightened joy. If their mind is poisoned by arrogance, they are suffering; why should we share their poison? Secondly, if we want to help them let go of arrogance, we need to lead by example. When they see our role modeling, eventually, they will learn and understand.
Note: The original term used by Venerable Master Jing Kong is 正覺, which translates to proper understanding and awareness. For simplicity, I’ve translated it as wisdom, but the meaning is “having wisdom and keeping wisdom top of mind in our awareness.”
We all want to be good and help others, but do you know how to do it properly? If we don’t have wisdom, then the harder we try, the more miserable we become. I’ve certainly had this experience, and I see so many people around me with this problem.
Wisdom arises from purity of mind. For example, have you noticed that you can more easily solve problems early in the morning, or when taking a shower? Why? Because your mind is fresh and your emotions are peaceful. To give an analogy, a clean mirror can reflect things perfectly, just like how a pure mind can understand things perfectly. The five poisons and other emotions are like dust on the mirror, obscuring our wisdom.
Unfortunately, our minds have been tainted by the five poisons probably for as long as we can remember, so it is very hard for our inner wisdom to arise. This is why we need to study ancient philosophies, such as Buddhism, Stoicism, Confucianism, and Daoism. These teachings have passed the test of time, and they all teach us how to be a good person and live a happy and productive life.
The founders of these philosophies all had purity of mind, so their teachings are pure wisdom that are applicable no matter where you live on this earth or what year you were born in. In comparison, many best-selling self-help books nowadays become forgotten and outdated after just a decade.
After studying these wise teachings, we need to constantly hold them at the top of our awareness. We need to inspect our thoughts and see if they align with wisdom. If yes, then our mind is aligned with the enlightened mind. If no, then we need to correct our thoughts and align them towards wisdom.
The opposite of wisdom is to act unconsciously according to our unenlightened habits. For example, if someone ticks us off, our habitual anger might make us seek revenge, and both sides get burned by the fire of anger. If we instead follow the advice of past sages, then we would repay people’s bad behavior with stronger good behavior, thereby arising their sense of shame and inspiring them towards virtue.
Another example is obtaining a delicious chocolate bar. Our habitual, unenlightened mind might make us want to eat it right away and enjoy it alone.
Some people might give some to their romantic partner or their children. But the sages teach us that giving others happiness is true happiness, an we should start with the people that we owe most gratitude to. For most of us, that is our parents. If we treat our romantic partner well but not our parents well, then that goes against proper human sentiment, and it is tainted by greed and selfishness.
All in all, wisdom requires us to study and learn, and I recommend The Guide to a Happy Life to start.
Compassion has two parts: giving others joy and removing their suffering. Compassion is sincere love, so it will not change when outer circumstances change. It is pure love, so it is not tainted by greed, selfishness, demands, or control. It is equal love towards all living beings. It is wise love that will give you long-term benefit, not short-term benefit with long-term harm.
Venerable Master Jing Kong gives a simple way to practice compassion:
“Be considerate of others with your every thought.”
Gandhi also expressed compassion when he said,
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
The opposite of compassion is selfishness and self-centeredness. A selfish person only thinks about their desires and doesn’t care about other people’s feelings. Although most people are not 100% selfish, nor 100% selfless, we ought to ask, do we tip more towards selfishness or selflessness? The more we tip towards selfishness, the more struggles and misery we will have in our mind.
For example, if a parent spoils a child out of “love”, that child will lack good moral character. In the long-term, that child will become a spoiled brat that causes trouble to everyone around him. No one will like that child, including the parents themselves. But since the parents raised this child, they have to deal with the consequences. This is the negative result of irrational and emotional love.
Another example is if a person likes another person for their looks, wealth, status, or any other outer factor. In the future, when these things change, the love is gone. This is called selfish desire (greed), not compassion.
Using The Enlightened Mind
The enlightened mind has sincerity, purity, equality, wisdom, and compassion. These five traits are intermingled and cannot be separated, just like how you cannot separate the different ingredients of a smoothie after it has been blended.
Now that we understand the theory, let’s look at a couple examples to bring theory to life.
Example 1: Relationships
If you DON’T have a relationship problem with anyone in your life, please contact me. I would love to learn from you. But chances are, most of us have relationship problems because most of us are not able to constantly maintain the enlightened mind, especially when facing emotionally sensitive situations such as an argument with a family member. But that is precisely the root of the problem.
Therefore, when we are calm, we need to inspect our mind and re-align it towards the enlightened mind.
- Sincerity: Am I being sincere here, or am I putting on a show? Am I trying to have a heartfelt and honest conversation, or am I trying to hide some things?
- Purity: Is my mind tainted by greed, anger, stupidity, arrogance, or doubt? Am I being demanding or controlling towards them? Probably yes. Then replace those poisons with sincere and wise compassion.
- Equality: Do I view myself as above them? Am I seeking to comfort my own ego at the expense of hurting their feelings? Or do I see us as equally important, like how I value my eyes and ears equally?
- Wisdom: Am I acting unconsciously according to my bad habits? Or am I consciously filtering my thoughts to align with the teachings of sages, to align with the enlightened mind?
- Compassion: Am I thinking of their long-term benefit, or am I thinking of my short-term benefit? Am I able to feel their feelings and see their point of view? Or am I lost in my own feelings and point of view?
For example, I used to have relationship conflicts with my mom. I always felt like she was too emotional and irrational about things. Therefore, my mind was tainted by arrogance. Moreover, my mother would demand me to read The Guide to a Happy Life, but since I didn’t have a good relationship with her, I resisted based on my negative emotions. This is acting unconsciously according to my unenlightened habits (stupidity).
Later, I learned to be more compassionate, to feel her feelings and to see things from her perspective. She was trying hard to be a good mother, just like how I was trying hard to be a good son.
No one wants to be a villain or to instigate conflict. Moreover, it doesn’t matter who is right. Her happiness and my happiness are equally important. Therefore, I don’t want to prove myself right at the expense of hurting her feelings.
I also followed the wise teachings of The Guide to a Happy Life. Specifically, I stopped arguing and trying to explain myself all the time. Instead, I practiced humility and thanked her for criticizing me. After a while, she stopped criticizing me and started correcting her greed (being demanding towards me).
Our whole world runs on relationships, so I cannot emphasize this topic enough.
If we could all have happy and harmonious relationships with each other, then we wouldn’t have broken families, racial conflict, or wars. International relations, economics, governance, military power, none of these get at the root of world peace. Teaching people to use the enlightened mind reaches the roots.
Example 2: Career
A friend recently asked me if I think she should go into the consulting industry. Most people would consider things like money, prestige, and work-life balance. Now we know that those are all related to the poison of greed. I guided her towards using the enlightened mind.
I asked her to reflect on many questions:
- Do YOU want to do this, or are you doing this for external validation?
- Would you want to be a management consultant purely for the work, even if your pay and prestige are low?
- If you did not pass the interviews two or three times, would you get annoyed, or would you keep on interviewing at more companies no matter how long it takes?
- How many people do you have in your mind when making this decision? Is it just your own benefit? Or your family’s benefit? Or are you trying to serve society? Serve the world?
- Would you be sad if you did not get the job? if yes, why are you attached to that job? Why can’t you fulfill your mission in a different way, via a different company or path?
She reflected that her life mission is to establish an organization that can innovate and solve problems related to sustainable food and education for women. She thought going into the consulting industry might give her more credibility to do that mission in the future. In other words, her mind had the poison of self-doubt. To solve that poison, I told her to find role models who are already doing what she wants to do, and then ask them for advice about whether or not she should go into consulting.
She also reflected that there was a bit of ego involved. After all, people who work for top consulting firms garner a lot of respect from others. If arrogance or ego is involved, she will become miserable when the work becomes tiring and uninteresting.
Later, she told me that even though she has an upcoming consulting interview, her mind feels light and at ease. She is not attached to the outcome. If she passes, great. If not, that’s also okay; she has other, more direct ways to work towards her mission. She simply grateful for this opportunity to learn from intelligent people, and she is having lots of fun in the process.
Work makes up such a significant part of everyone’s lives. If we could all feel happy and fulfilled in our work, imagine how much more of a joyful and prosperous world we would have. The actual work itself is far less important than the mind with which we bring to our work. If we use the enlightened mind, then we will surely be successful and fulfilled in our careers.
Ordinary people seek happiness and solutions by changing the outside circumstances. Often times, the more they try, the more miserable they become. Buddhism teaches us that outside circumstances will change in accordance to changes in our inner mind. Therefore, the best way to face any situation in life is to use the enlightened mind, which has five aspects: sincerity, purity, equality, wisdom, and compassion.
I have personally tried this and can attest to its effectiveness, so I am ever grateful to Venerable Master Jong Kong for his simple yet profound explanation of the enlightened mind. I hope you will try it too. Recall that problem you thought of at the beginning. How can you swap the unenlightened mind and instead use the enlightened mind to solve it?
Originally published at https://www.weeklywisdomblog.com on July 31, 2022.