In these spiritually degenerate times we encounter many obstacles to our spiritual practice but rather than being discouraged by them we can learn to transform them into the spiritual path by practicing training the mind.
Children get very excited when they make sandcastles, but when the sea washes them away they become upset. Buddha said that we are like children in this respect because we are happy when things are going well, but become miserable and depressed as soon as we encounter difficulties.
Samsaric pleasure is necessarily impermanent, and sooner or later turns into suffering; we would be foolish to expect anything else. Therefore we need to develop equanimity with respect to good and bad situations. We need to think `If things go well, fine; if they do not, that’s fine too.’
Turning difficult circumstances to our advantage
Whatever comes up, we can turn it to our advantage. As Shantideva says, suffering has many good qualities because it purifies our negative karma, increases our renunciation and compassion, reduces our pride, and helps us to overcome bad mental habits. If we think in this way we will feel that difficult circumstances are our best friends. When our mind is balanced in this way it becomes as stable as Mount Meru, and nothing can cause it to shake.
If through training our mind we find that we can keep a peaceful and happy mind at all times, even in difficult circumstances, this indicates that we have been successful in our training. If we train our mind in this way, everything we encounter will increase our Dharma realizations.
Making every second of our life meaningful
There are three types of object: attractive, unattractive, and neutral. Normally, when we encounter the first we develop attachment, when we encounter the second we develop hatred, and when we encounter the third we develop ignorance.
For a successful practitioner of training the mind, however, these objects have the opposite effect. Instead of giving rise to the three poisons – attachment, hatred, and ignorance – they give rise to the three virtuous roots – non-attachment, non-hatred, and non-ignorance.
The three virtuous roots are not simply the absence of the three poisons, but are their direct opposites. Thus non-attachment is a virtuous mind that is the direct opposite of attachment. Renunciation is a type of non-attachment.
We can generate non-attachment through wisdom, and also through other minds such as faith or concentration. Whenever we contemplate the faults of attachment and generate a distaste for ordinary objects of desire, seeing them as harmful and deceptive, we are practicing non-attachment. Skillful practitioners of training the mind try to generate this mind whenever they see attractive objects.
Non-hatred is a virtuous mind that is the direct opposite of hatred. We generate this mind by contemplating the faults of anger and hatred.
Non-ignorance is a virtuous mind that is the direct opposite of ignorance. It is a type of wisdom. We generate this mind by resisting the ordinary appearance of objects and contemplating their empty nature.
Since we encounter attractive, unattractive, and neutral objects all the time, if we learn to generate the three virtuous roots rather than the three poisons we can make every second of our life meaningful. For practitioners of training the mind, this is the most important practice when they are not in meditation.