Inner Peace: How to find peace in this frantic world

An article I wrote for NTU Buddhist Society’s Prajna magazine.

 

This Frantic World

Another academic year has come and gone, let us reflect on how the year has gone and how we can find peace in our life amidst this fast paced frantic world.

As I write this, I recall the recent bombing in Istanbul airport and shopping district in Baghdad.  2015 and 2016 has been pockmarked with so much attacks in public places, one has to wonder if humanity is on its way to write itself out of existence.

And when bombings are not in the news, natural disasters such as earthquakes, droughts, floods and typhoons seem to be the new norm in weather and news reports.

As though man-made and natural disasters are not enough, we see news about the economy and it’s not a pretty sight whether back home or globally.

Even if one can ignore the news, there is the seemingly never-ending cycle of exams.  Is there ever an end to all these?

What can we do about all these?

There are three main areas that we would be looking at.  1) Areas of changes externally 2) Areas of changes internally 3) Areas of acceptance

External Changes

Many people think that Buddhism exclude making changes to the world, that we are supposed to only change ourselves to suit the world and never ever make any changes to the world at all.  This is an anti-thesis to the “The world needs changing, not me” approach.  Both are extreme views.

Sometimes there is a need to introduce changes to the external world or environment.  The Buddha allowed the building of huts for use by the Sangha during the rainy seasons, and also made attempts to prevent a few conflicts between states and succeeded in preventing a number of them. [1]

When a disciple reflected to Ajahn Chah that he could not stand the noise of the roof and windows banging with the wind and rain, he replied simply that the noise from the banging window can be solved by keeping them shut and secured while the noise from the rain hitting the roof should be accepted as they are.

因上努力,果上隨緣 – Put in effort where we can, accept the fruits arise according to conditions

Instead of adopting a saviour-complex trying to change the whole world or a passive doormat-complex, resigning oneself to whatever comes our way, we should consider each situation as they are, and try to improve the situation with courage and strength, but realise with wisdom when to accept the outcome according to the conditions that are beyond our control.

This approach means that we live our life with vigour and energy but have realistic expectations about the outcome.

 

Internal Changes

Talking about expectations, often times, we lose our peace when we do not get what we want, exactly the way we want it.  It would be nice if we can have our desired outcome but are we doomed to be stressed, upset or angry the moment we don’t get what we want?

The Buddha highlighted in the First Noble Truth that we suffer when we do not get what we want. [2]  But he did not teach that we are doomed to suffer in this way.  And what causes us to suffer in this way?  It is when we insist on getting what we want and expect to get it, regardless of the conditions facing us, that we will suffer.  When we are affixed and attached to what we want that we suffer when it does not turn out the way we expect it to.

The tempting approach is to simply not to expect anything.  After all, it seems to be the logical conclusion.  If expectations lead to disappointments then no expectations will result in no disappointments.  This approach require us to become aloof of the world in order not to be disappointed.  Some take it up and perhaps account for the perceived notion that Buddhists are aloof and detached of the world.  A care-less, apathetic attitude at best.  

This seem to be disjointed with both how the Buddha did care for the world and how we are inclined to feel towards ourselves and others.

It is not about having no expectations, but to calibrate our expectations so that they are realistically grounded in reality.  To not peg our expectations in some idealised state but to frequently review the existing conditions surrounding us, and revise the expectations accordingly.

By doing so, we are neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but as realistic as possible, as the Buddha is.

Acceptance

As much as we try to be realistic, sometimes the outcome can be undesirable or outrightly discouraging.  Realistically speaking, we sometimes know that our understanding of a certain subject is not quite on par with what is expected to pass, but a fail grade is still likely to hurt regardless of how an enlightened one would react to it.

This brings us to the final piece of the puzzle to our inner peace.  

Acceptance.   

Before we jump to the outcome, half the time, we are beset with stress over potential outcomes and it can be paralysing.

There are two magically questions that we can ask when we find ourselves stuck in uncontrolled, discursive thinking and worry.

  1. Does the matter require an immediate solution?
  2. Am I able to solve it immediately?

While we face the myriad of challenges in our lives, we have to consider if they require immediate solutions.  Recognising that they do not always require immediate solutions can free us to ‘schedule’ them a time-slot for brainstorming or if not a ‘5-minute worry slot’.  In this way, we start to break away from unscheduled guests occupying our precious mind, burdening us with undue cognitive load!

In the event if the matter require an immediate solution, then we should consider if we have the means to solve it immediately.  And if the answer is yes, then solve it now!  Move on with your happy stress-free life and take a walk in the park (remember to ask me along!) or go help someone else with their challenges.

If however, you find that you do not have the ability to solve it immediately, consider consulting our friends or calling a life-line.  Sometimes we take the Buddha’s advice on self-reliance a bit too far, and end up suffering alone when a helping hand from a friend is around the corner.  When Venerable Ananda proclaimed spiritual friendship to be half the holy life, the Buddha corrected him, declaring spiritual friendship to be the whole of the holy life! [3]

If in the end, we find that we really do not have the means to solve the matter immediately by ourselves or with others, then we have to learn to accept the realities … for now.  The fear of or refusal to accept the outcome or consequences is often times more damaging than the outcome itself.

Acceptance moves us away from escapism and resignation.  It taps on mindfulness to take a good unadulterated look at the present, to accept it in its totality.  Accepting the outcome that is less than ideal.  Accepting when external factors or individuals are not what we expected.  And perhaps most importantly, accepting that given the current conditions, we and others are still unenlightened, and so are still subject to follies.  To forgive others and ourselves, and move forward.

To have inner peace.

In closing, please join me to extend our deepest condolences, comfort and compassion to our brothers and sisters who are hurt or perished in Istanbul, Turkey and in Baghdad in the recent bombings.  

May they receive aid to rebuild their country and find strength and courage to go through this difficult part of their life.

May those who cause such harm also find peace within themselves without the need to bring fear and harm to others.

May all beings be free from fear, harm and danger!

May all beings be Well and Happy!   

 

Reference

[1] Dhammapada Verses 197, 198 and 199
Natikalahavupasamana Vatthu
http://www.tipitaka.net/tipitaka/dhp/verseload.php?verse=197

[2] SN 56.11 PTS: S v 420 CDB ii 1843
Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html

[3] SN 45.2 PTS: S v 2 CDB ii 1524
Upaddha Sutta: Half (of the Holy Life)
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn45/sn45.002.than.html