Although some suffering may not be eliminated in this life—including pain and illness, other suffering can be greatly reduced and even eliminated by the thoughts we choose. As we live mindfully, we can find peace amid the difficulties that we experience.
Buddhists teach that three negative traits or fundamental evils, which are called the Three Poisons, create human suffering. They include greed, anger, and ignorance.
• Greed includes any pleasure that we seek that destroys our happiness, including stinginess, envy, lack of compassion, and pursuing anything in an unhealthy manner, including wealth, fame, sex, eating, and sleeping. We replace greed with generosity and gratitude. We can compare this to Christ’s temptations in the wilderness. After he had fasted for forty days, Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, jump from the pinnacle of the temple and achieve instant fame, and to receive the kingdoms of the worship if He worshiped Satan. We know that Jesus sounded rejected all three temptations.
• Anger includes hatred, rage, resentment, animosity, and aversion. If we truly follow the Golden Rule and if we seek to love others and we love ourselves, we can eventually eliminate anger from our lives. Paul taught the Ephesians, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour (brawling), and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted (compassionate), forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” When Jesus forgave those who crucified Him, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” He showed us how we can conquer this human tendency.
• Ignorance includes delusion, not knowing our true nature, pride, and failing to recognize that every action has a cause and an effect. When we remember that we are children of the most high God, that everyone we meet is a child of the divine, and that we are nothing without God but that with Him, all things are possible, we reduce our ignorance. We live with understanding and wisdom, realizing that as when we serve others, we are serving God and that as we sow, we reap. Eastern religions would define this latter concept as the law of Karma. In his classic book, As a Man Thinketh, James Allen says, “Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results. Bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results. This is but saying that nothing can come from corn but corn, nothing from nettles but nettles. Men understand this law in the natural world, and work with it. But few understand it in the mental and moral world (though its operation there is just as simple and undeviating), and they, therefore, do not cooperate with it."
Dr. Rick Hanson describes a situation that shows how avoiding or choosing the Three Poisons can effects our peace of mind. He said that after returning home from work and finding the home a mess, he could chose greed (becoming rigid in how we want things to do), choose anger (becoming bothered and upset), or choose delusion (taking the situation personally.) Or he could choose peace by ignoring the mess, picking it up calmly, or talking to his children about the situation and kindly enlisting their help (Buddha’s Brain.)
In The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize says, “We also often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally. We tend to take small things too seriously and blow them up out of proportion, while at the same time we often remain indifferent to the really important things, those things which have profound effects on our lives and long-term consequences and implications.”
In every thought, we choose peace or something else. The study of the brain reveals that the flow of our thoughts actually sculpts the brain. By choosing thoughts of love, kindness, patience, and goodness, we can retrain our brain until we not only find peace amid sorrow, but we can replace sorrow with peace.
© Carol Brown