Seeking Inner Peace
One of the main teachings in Buddhism is how we deal with the problems and adversities we are faced with in everyday life – by understanding and preventing their causes. We are usually accustomed to looking towards outward circumstances for the reasons we have such difficulties in our life, but with the application of techniques such as meditation – Buddhist teaching urges us to look inwards. Most of our feelings of alienation and dissatisfaction are the result of negative states of mind we encounter throughout our lives, namely: anger, sense-desire, and ignorance. Buddha also taught us how to overcome and eliminate these negative states of mind by understanding and applying the Noble Eightfold Path while developing more positive states of mind such as compassion, generosity, virtue, wisdom, etc.
There is all of this talk about this thing called “inner peace”, and how it is the real source of lasting happiness. If inner peace is referring to a calm, stilled mind – then yes, this is pretty close to the truth. For example, when the mind is agitated – then it does not matter how peaceful our outward circumstances are. Alternatively, if the mind is calmed and at peace then one may be able to encounter any amount of outward difficulties without the least bit of disturbance.
Of course, you can find inner peace right where you are by letting go, taking a step back, and realizing that everyone, everywhere suffers the hardships of life – although for others it may be more or less. Or, perhaps you could simply try looking at it from another perspective. This may not actually be as easy as it sounds, for it will require all of your reasoning skills to look at your situation as objectively as possible.
For example, think of someone you don’t like at all. You might think of them as having nothing but negative qualities. On the other hand, think of someone you absolutely love or adore. You might perceive them as having 100% positive qualities – or as being near perfect. However, neither of these views are grounded in reality. If a friend, whom you think of as having 100% good qualities, purposely does something that hurts you – you will suddenly become aware that they are not 100% perfect. Likewise, if someone you dislike sincerely begs you for your forgiveness, then you will become aware that they are not 100% bad, after all. Therefore, this tendency we have to see our situation as completely negative or positive is only due to our own perception based on our own mental projection, rather than due to the true nature of our situation.
Once someone asked Nanao Sakaki, the Japanese poet who saw Hiroshima and was a leading personality of Buzoku (“The Tribe”, a counterculture of 1960’s and 70’s Japan), “How do we survive nuclear catastrophe?” He simply stated, “No need to survive. No need to survive hell either. Wherever you are, that can be the pure land.”
Perhaps this is a bit more straightforward. If you wish to transform your life and attain “inner peace” you must first learn to transform your mind. Suffering, stress, problems, anxieties, anguish, worries, unhappiness, and pain all exist within the mind; they are all unpleasant feelings, which are part of the mind. Through controlling and purifying our mind we can stop them once and for all. In Buddhism, this is achieved by examining, understanding, and applying what is known as the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
To quote the Dhammapada:
Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.
The Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön also offers this heartfelt advice in her book When Things Fall Apart. She explains that sometimes, in order to have inner peace, the point isn’t necessarily to overcome the problems – but to have a deeper understanding of them, and to act accordingly.
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”