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Buddhism for Everyday Life

by Kelsang Chönden(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 96 - February 2004

How many Buddhists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.

Buddhism is all about being happy and it works well. Everybody, everyday has the wish to be happy and free from suffering. However, very few people fulfil this fundamental wish. Many of us lead stressful and unhappy lives and our habitually un-peaceful minds often induce or worsen physical problems. Why is this happening in such a materially well-developed country? What do we have to change?


Buddha Amitabha
Buddha Amitabha


The answer to this question is simple, and with hindsight, obvious. We are looking for happiness in the wrong place. Happiness is in the mind. It is a pleasant feeling, which is part of mind. It is an experience of living beings. It cannot be found in money, technological advances, property or status or anything else external. Happiness is all in our mind. And for that matter so is suffering. The one and only problem we have, is that our mind is uncontrolled. Worry, anxiety, suffering and problems do not exist 'out there'. It is all in our mind. Even if we get the things we want, we are never satisfied and soon want something else. Our happiness seems to be just ahead of us on the horizon with the next acquisition but when we get there it is not what we really want. We are not satisfied and immediately want a bigger, better, faster version or something else, and the quest for happiness goes on, endlessly disappointing. We are like thirsty travellers in a desert chasing mirages.

"External conditions can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful.

We can understand this through our own experience. For instance, even if we are in the most beautiful surroundings and have everything we need, the moment we get angry any happiness we may have disappears. This is because anger has destroyed our inner peace."[1]

When we feel disturbed by others' actions, for example criticism, the disturbance and ensuing pain we experience is actually in our own mind. We are like the 'not so smart' dogs, who angrily bark at the dog in the mirror.

Perhaps we have heard this before but are we still quick to look outside of ourselves to try to find the causes of our unhappiness and blame our boss, partner, government etc. for the unpleasant feelings we experience. This indicates that we still have not fully understood the implications of this insight – everything depends on the mind.

We are allowed to be happy and we are responsible for our own mind.

No one else has the power to bring us happiness or suffering. We can be as happy as we make our minds up to be and, if we allow our mind to become negative, we will inevitably experience problems. A trivial example: If someone dumped a load of manure on our doorstep it could be a huge pile of a problem. On the other hand we could be delighted that our rose garden will be more beautiful next year. Whether the situation is a problem or an opportunity depends on how we look at it. Whether a person is a friend or an enemy depends on our mind. If John was objectively a friend then he would always be a friend and everyone would like him and there would be no disagreement. There is disagreement because what the perceived phenomenon/ person/situation or world is, depends on the mind perceiving it. It is entirely subjective.

So Buddhists try to control their minds, taking out what is disturbing and conducive to suffering and enhancing the factors that bring inner peace. The method for making the mind familiar with happiness and its causes is meditation.

In response to being asked "What is the essence of your teachings ?" Buddha said:

"Cease to do evil
Learn to do good
Control the mind
And benefit others
This is the teaching of the Able Ones"

There are countless Buddhas: enlightened beings who have gained complete control over their own minds and developed every good quality to the full, including omniscience and impartial compassion, and the ability to benefit every living being. All the Buddhism in the world today comes from Buddha Shakyamuni. He appeared as a prince in India but left his 'palace life' to meditate and find the causes of lasting happiness and the solution to the sufferings of ageing, sickness, death, birth and so forth.

Evil, or harmful actions always arise from un-peaceful minds such as anger, jealousy, attachment and pride. By watching the workings of our own mind we can learn how to identify these delusions. We can learn how to oppose them to reduce their strength and frequency and eventually to eradicate them from our mind once and for all. This process begins with study, contemplation and meditation and continues in the field of everyday situations. When our mind is completely free of delusions we will attain liberation or 'nirvana'. This is a state of pure and everlasting peace, day and night, in life after life. Any and all progress we make in reducing our delusions will make our life more enjoyable and meaningful. At the same time we use meditation to develop positive minds such as patience, love, compassion and wisdom. A large part of Mahayana Buddhism is improving our intention towards other living beings, becoming more aware and considerate of all those around us. As our patience and love improve for example, our irritation and hatred are naturally reduced.

The five precepts

As the bottom line of the code to live by, many Buddhists observe the five precepts:

  • Abandoning killing (any living being, even insects);
  • Abandoning stealing;
  • Abandoning sexual misconduct (e.g. adultery);
  • Abandoning lying;
  • Abandoning taking intoxicants (including tobacco and alcohol).

Clearly no-one wants to lose their life or their possessions and deceiving others with a bad motivation causes many problems. It is also not difficult to see how sexual misconduct deeply disturbs the people involved, but what about abandoning intoxicants? This might not seem very necessary at first but when we consider how these drugs cloud our mind and addiction to them (even tobacco and booze) takes control over our actions and our lives, we can see that Buddha's suggestions are founded in great wisdom. The only way to enjoy real inner peace is by clearing the mind of such obstacles and when we get a taste of how clear our mind can become through meditation it puts the so-called joys of intoxication firmly in their place of being uncontrolled and unhappy experiences. It is not hard to see that people with drinking, smoking and drug habits are continuing to indulge to avoid the pain of withdrawal rather than for an experience of real happiness. However much we consume we are never satisfied and will always want more. Contentment can be found in a peaceful mind, so within the boundaries of behaviour outlined in the precepts we can start to taste freedom and real mental health.

Degenerate times

It seems that people's minds are becoming more rough and uncontrolled with each passing year. Due to uncontrolled greed, anger, jealousy and pride there are conflicts of interests and exploitation all over the world. Our planet seems to be increasingly polluted, so that it is hard to find pure air, water and food. Many species have become extinct and there is a real danger that humans could render the planet unfit for human habitation before long. Our knowledge and understanding of the external world is not solving our problems and bringing us happiness – in fact it could be said that there are now more problems and greater unhappiness than ever before. How can we respond positively to witnessing this violence and violation of individuals, nations, species and environments? My understanding of Buddha's teachings leads me to think that the best thing we can do for ourselves and everyone else, is to develop and maintain a peaceful and pure mind. Now is the time to look at the inner world and understand the relationship between our minds, our actions and our experiences.

We don't have to let ourselves be swept along with the tide of business and consumer greed or add more poison to the world when we hear of people causing harm under the influence of their chronic inner diseases of ignorance, attachment and hatred. If we allow these delusions to poison our minds we will always suffer and always be a part of the problem. Simply recognizing that the problems of individuals and society as a whole are the results of delusion gives us the space to act constructively with a good heart towards everyone, even the perpetrators of nasty crimes. Our compassion can grow, wishing everyone to be free from suffering and its causes. If we have such a pure and powerful minds as love and compassion for all living beings, we will be part of the solution.

By reducing our impure minds and developing pure minds we can cause all impure appearances to cease and pure appearances to arise. For example if there is no anger in our mind we have no enemies, we have only friends (although some of them may have problems). Enemies only exist in relation to the mind of anger that perceives them. Eventually by focusing on other's good qualities and removing our own faults we will come to abide in a pure land with pure enjoyments, surrounded by pure beings.

"We cannot exist without others, and they in turn are affected by everything we do. The idea that it is possible to secure our own welfare whilst neglecting that of others, or even at the expense of others, is completely unrealistic."[1]

As you sow, so shall you reap

"Every action we perform leaves an imprint, or potentiality, on our very subtle mind, and each imprint eventually gives rise to its own effect. Our mind is like a field, and performing actions is like sowing seeds in that field. Virtuous actions sow seeds of future happiness and non-virtuous actions sow seeds of future suffering."[1]

With omniscient wisdom Buddhas see the precise workings of karma or cause and effect as it applies to the actions of living beings and their experiences. With great compassion Buddhas reveal this universal law so that by knowing the law and living within it we can create the causes for the happiness we long for. We may tend to accept that our good conditions and pleasant experiences come from the good we have done in the past but do not like the idea of our pain and suffering coming from our own harmful actions. Knowing the law of karma does not reduce our love and compassion for those who suffer, rather our compassion increases with the understanding that suffering is avoidable. We strongly wish that everyone could be free from suffering and its causes.


Meditation is a method for making our mind peaceful. Specifically we change our view and our intention, and become more familiar with views and intentions that bring inner peace and happiness. The most meaningful meditations are presented in the Stages of the Path, an excellent arrangement of Buddha's teachings. In the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) we prepare by meditating on the breath first. This exercise has many benefits such as reducing stress and anxiety and improving the clarity and peace in our mind making us more efficient and constructive in all our daily activities:

  • Sit comfortably, with a straight back and eyes partially closed;
  • Breathe naturally, through the nose is best;
  • Focus your awareness on the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils;
  • As distracting thoughts arise, resist the temptation to follow them and return the mind to the breath whenever it wanders off.

Ten minutes of this every day will make a noticeable difference.

"When the turbulence of distracting thoughts subsides and our mind becomes still, a deep
happiness and contentment arises naturally from within."[1] …and this is just the preliminary practice.

Tips for keeping a happy mind:

  • Use the breathing meditation when stressed or angry;
  • Recognize the importance of your attitude towards the situation;
  • Know your own mind and recognize delusions as they begin to develop;
  • Prevent anger by:

a) Taking your mind off the person or situation, e.g. count to ten;
b) Remember that the difficulty is a karmic consequence of making life difficult for others in the past;
c) Be careful not to create more bad karma by getting angry again;
d) Regard the challenge as an opportunity to improve your patience and love;
e) Remember countless other beings have worse suffering than us and develop compassion for them;

• Prevent attachment by:

a) Counting your blessings and the good things you have – be content, contentment is real inner wealth;
b) Recognizing that the external things we want have no power to make us happy. Drinking seawater makes us more thirsty;
c) Remembering that even when we get what we want we invariably get many unwanted 'accessories'.


1. Gyatso GK. Transform Your Life. Tharpa Publications. Ulverston. 2001.

The quotes and ideas in this article are all taken from this book. It is awesome!

Further Information : Useful websites


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About Kelsang Chönden

Kelsang Chönden was raised a Christian but lost 'the plot' in his teens. While studying Economics at University he also studied the effects on his mind of taking various hallucinogenic substances. Results, a 2.2 and a lot of confusion. By the age of 27 he felt he had tried it all and was disappointed. Going along to an evening meditation class in Nottingham changed everything. A few weeks later he moved in to Madhyamaka Centre in Yorkshire. The more he found out about Buddha's teachings the better it got. After three years he asked for and was granted ordination. Now ten years a monk, he has been the Resident Teacher of Amitabha Centre for four years and lives at the Centre in Bristol with its twenty residents. He can honestly say that he has never been better. He can be contacted on

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