Apr 18, 2022
Dharma often refers to the teachings of Buddha, but the specific meaning of dharma is that which holds us back from suffering. If we say we are a Buddhist or a dharma practitioner, it means we are making an effort to hold ourselves back from suffering by putting the teachings into practice. In other words, we are trying to tame our own mind. At the moment, our mind is like a wild horse, going anywhere it wishes. If our feelings get hurt, the mind may race off in anger and speech that is destructive to a relationship with someone. We might regret it later, but the damage has been done. Wouldn’t it be better if we could use our thoughts to restrain our mind, calm it, and guide it in a positive direction?
Training the mind begins by trying to develop the wish to tame our mind. Usually, we think that we would be happy if we just had the right partner, the right amount of money, the right job, the right house, or the right body. We want the things we believe will make us happy. But external things are unpredictable. For example, there are many wealthy, famous, beautiful people that are very unhappy. If wealth, fame, or beauty were real causes of happiness, anyone who passed them would be happy. But we know too many examples of people who seem to have such wonderful external conditions but are at the same time deeply unhappy. Buddhism suggests that we go straight for happiness! Develop the wish to be happy from an inner source, and then train yourself to produce your own happiness.
The tools that we have to train our minds are mindfulness and meditation. Meditation and mindfulness help us train the mind to make it capable of guiding ourselves in a positive direction and away from destructive emotions like anger, greed, and jealousy. In this context, mindfulness observes our thoughts and actions, staying very aware of what we are doing, and reminds us of what we said we were supposed to be doing. When we meditate on the breath, for example, mindfulness makes us aware that we’ve lost our concentration and reminds us to bring our attention back to the breath. Or mindfulness may notice when we start becoming irritated and reminds us that we intend to practice patience or positivity. Mindfulness is like the reins of the horse used to guide our mind in the direction that we choose.
Taming our mind should be approached like taming a wild horse, with gentleness and kindness toward ourselves. The first steps to taming a wild horse are simply putting it in a pasture with other calm, tame horses, being kind to the horse, connecting with it to build trust, and making being with humans seem like a positive experience. In the same way, we can’t use our deepening awareness and wish to train our minds to beat ourselves up. Taming is a gentle, slow process of transformation, not a sudden change.
In verse 305 of the Dhammapada, Buddha speaks of the virtues of being alone in the princess of taming oneself. This means dwelling in solitude is conducive to meditation and spiritual training. But I also think that being alone, following the spiritual path in this modern world, can be thought of the way Brene Brown describes the courage to stand alone:
“Everything I’ve ever done that’s ever really made a contribution, I have felt alone in doing it and afraid but alive. What I have found is that after the first time and it really only takes one time, but after the first time you up to brave the wilderness, you pull away from what a group of people thinks, maybe it’s your creative community, it’s your critics, the first time you pull away and find power and standing on your own, I think you belong into the wilderness in a different way because, anytime after that, when you choose fitting in over belonging to yourself, it’s painful.” —Brene Brown
Sitting alone, resting alone, walking alone,
Untiring and alone,
Whoever has tamed oneself
Will find delight in the forest.
--Buddha, The Dhammapada
References and Links
Brown, Brene. (2021, July 24). Have the courage to stand alone. [Video] . YouTube.
Buddha.The Dhammapada. Translated by Gil Fronsdale. (Kindle). Shambala, Boston and London, 2011, pp. 77 (Link)
Buddha (1986).The Dhammapada: Verses and Stories. Translated by Daw Mya Tin, M.A. (Website). Edited by Editorial Committee, Burma Tipitaka Association Rangoon. Courtesy of Nibbana.com. For free distribution only, as a gift of dhamma.
Planks on, Katie. Taming a Horse: How to Tame Horse in Real Life. Horse Bonding Success. https://horsebondingsuccess.com/horse-training/taming-a-horse