To many, Buddhism seems esoteric, a hard to grasp concept of inner life. The practice of non-attachment to things and people (elimination of desire), understanding and connecting with universal pain (dukkha), and compassion for self and others as flawed beings, often seems antithetical to what we were initially taught.
We can’t eliminate desire. Some of the things we crave are needed for our survival, such as food, water, safety, and sex. And other things we crave are often motivation for us to do and be better. Buddhism doesn’t actually condemn desire itself and doesn’t ask us to eliminate it.
The true Buddhist meaning of desire is to want something that is absent. But even when we get what we desire, we can become greedy and crave something more, something gone, or something ‘better’. We can always exist in a state of wanting. This is the opposite of mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying attention to what is right in front of us and acknowledging￼ it is impermanent￼. We can miss the loved ones we lost, the companions who are gone, our beloved family animals, our health or youth￼; but the missing can take over the moment.
Although Buddhism is primarily known as a spiritual tradition, it is also a lifestyle that encompasses the mind in almost all forms of practice. It is very commensurate with mental health practice.
The practice of Buddhism puts the individual in the role of “personal scientist,” running experiments on their own mind to see what works for them. The idea is that through this process (known as mental training), a person can achieve greater comfort (inner peace￼). Buddhism is self examination, reflection, and introspection.
The main form of mental training is meditation. Numerous neuropsychological studies ￼show that meditating has many mental health benefits such as reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. It accomplishes this over time through teaching people to experience painful thoughts from a different perspective. Rather than letting a thought nag at someone’s state of mind, meditation teaches them to recognize that it is a thought; that we give it power, and we can thereby also deflate the power of thoughts and feelings to hurt as much.￼Read more about the Neuropsychology of Meditation.
Making Social Connections
Basic Buddhist teachings are about practicing kindness, humor and compassion towards other people. One of Buddhists’ primary principles is that there should be no agenda other than to help someone. This includes starting with extending compassion to oneself as a flawed being. In Buddhism, all people are equal. Buddhism can give practitioners a profound feeling of connectedness without loss of identity, and never in terms of superiority or inferiority to others. Sangha is a Sanskrit word meaning “association”, “assembly”, “company” or “community”. Your Sangha encourages you in your goals and journey. Your community matters; in my work as a clinical psychologist, I strongly encourage￼ positive social connection as a primary source of mental health care and therapeutic goal.
Being in Charge of Our Actions
Karma is an often-misunderstood Buddhist concept. While many people see it as “what goes around comes around,” karma in Buddhism actually is the idea that a person has the ability to change any circumstances they face in life. Karma is an accumulation of all of your actions across time and the mark they leave on the world; it is non-judgmental. ￼Karma is meant to be a doctrine of responsibility and empowerment, not a punishment.
For a Buddhist, hope is a decision. Resolve is a practice.
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