Yesterday I read a headline, and opening paragraph, about the difference between focussing on the results of our experiences rather than the causes. Although I failed to read the rest of the article, or take note of the source from where the ideas came, it was enough for me to contemplate the profound importance of these two approaches.
It is very clear that we mere mortals almost exclusively focus on “results”. Someone insults us and our focus falls on the emotion (this is the “result” of the insult) of say indignation or resentment. When our partner leaves us we experience heartache or perhaps betrayal. Even when we experience something positive, like success in an exam, we focus on the resultant emotion of, for example, pride or joy.
In other words it is the power of our emotional response, that “results” from the “experience” (be it positive or negative) that takes all or attention. The consequence? We live a constant rollercoaster ride where we hand over all control to the whim of these unpredictable and destabilising emotions, focussing all our attention on external factors which we believe are causing our happiness or suffering!
But beyond ignorance lies the mind of the “bodhisattva” (a person of infinite wisdom) where the focus of all our experiences is not the “resultant” emotions but rather the “causes” of those very experiences, namely karma (put simply “cause and effect”). In other words when the bodhisattva experiences something painful or “unfortunate”, rather than falling into the trap of an emotional response, he or she will focus on the “cause” ie some action, thought or word that he or she has perpetrated in the past and which has sown the seed of the current experience.
Everything positive we experience arises from positive / ethical deeds, words or thoughts we have undertaken in the past. It has nothing to do with “fortune”, which might lead to an emotional response of, say, “giddy excitement”. Instead by focussing on the “causes” ie our own positive actions in the past etc, we are able to experience the serenity and lasting bliss that arise from a “wisdom” based response.
In the same way when we experience something unpleasant, rather than allowing destructive negative emotions to arise, our focus should fall on the empowering knowledge that our own actions are the ultimate cause and, if we want to change things, the power to do so lies exclusively within us, and what we do here and now! In other words we are no longer “victims” (positive or negative) of what happens in life rather we are the “creators” of all we live and experience.
I am not saying that this change of focus is easy, it certainly isn’t as our mind is a creature of habit that has up it’s sleeve a plethora of well practiced emotional responses to all the things that happen or might happen to us! But that is why we need to first recognise the “suffering” the results when we leave our lives in the hands of these emotional responses (ie a focus on “results”). Then we need to contemplate an alternative analysis (based on the underlying “causes” of our experiences – karma). Then we need to practice mindfulness, a mind that oversees and responds quickly to halt the arising emotional responses we want to control. And finally we need “determination” to ensure that time and time again, even when “fall” back into a “results” based response, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and practice the determination that we will slowly and surely rid our mind of these unhelpful habitual responses. In this way, with time and patience, we will start to replace the old habits with new ones based on the wisdom that knows that everything is a dependent arising!
This article contains my humble opinions and thoughts and should not be mistaken for the wisdom of my teacher, the Venerable Geshe Tsering Palden, or any other fully qualified Buddhist teacher or Guru. My only aim in writing this Blog is to try and train my mind in the path of the Buddha and if by so doing I am able to benefit others I dedicate all merits for the relief of suffering of all sentient beings.
Note: Any error in this text is entirely attributable to me, and only to me, and should never be attributable to the perfect teachings of Dharma. I sincerely apologise for any mistakes.