Lately more and more Western people are interested in Eastern practices such as yoga and meditation. In a rapidly changing world it has become a great challenge for many of us to retain control over mind and body. Yet in essential it is our mind that holds the key to happiness. When we have no control over our minds, it means we have no control over happiness. The Tushita Meditation Centres in Dharamshala and New Delhi in India are well aware of this and give teachings on both the working of the mind and meditation. Every year the centres welcome more than thousands of visitors from all over the world and provide them with specific insights that are the key to their happiness.
By: Gilles Van Hecke
Introduction to Buddhism courses
The most known Tushita Meditation Centre is the one in the hills of Dharamshala. More exactly it is located in Mcleod Ganj, the mountain village where his Holiness the Dalai Lama has his seat in exile. The meditation centre exists of a spacious gompa (where Buddhist teachings and most of the meditation sessions are being held), a dining room, some basic dormitories and sanitary facilities. All of this is surrounded by tall pine trees and playful monkeys.
One of the many courses that are offered all year round is the ‘Introduction to Buddhism’ course. This is a ten days retreat during which the participants cannot leave the meditation centres and have to remain silent, except for questions during classes and daily group discussions. Surprisingly during only one class the history of Buddhism and the life of Buddha are mentioned. All other classes are devoted to the working of the mind and the practice of meditation.
The main emphasis is put on a practical understanding of the working of the mind, which lies at the very core of the Buddhist teachings.
This seems to be in line with Buddhist philosophy. According to the teachings one should never blindly accept what another person says, even if that person be the Dalai Lama or Buddha himself. It is taught that each person should find out for himself whether or not a theory works for him. As a consequence, the life of Buddha or the history of Buddhism itself does not matter too much in the Introduction of Buddhism course. The main emphasis is put on a practical understanding of the working of the mind, which lies at the very core of the Buddhist teachings.
Our mind is the key
During one of the first classes it is shown to students how many people make the mistake of searching for happiness in the external world. Whereas it is true that buying a new smartphone, having a nice meal or going for a lovely holiday might give us pleasure, it is also true that this sense of pleasure does not remain forever. After a while of experiencing pleasure, we become used to the external source that gave rise to the initial sense of happiness and start to search for another source of happiness. In this way it is very hard to reach a permanent state of happiness.
According to Buddhism lasting happiness does not depend on the outside world. On the contrary, happiness starts with one’s own mind and how we perceive reality around us. That is the reason why so much emphasis is put on meditation and the true nature of reality during the ten days retreats at Tushita Meditation Centre. By training the mind in generating love and compassion for all sentient beings, the main goal of the teachings is to transform a negative, harmful way of thinking into a permanent, positive way of thinking. The final result is a calmer and more peaceful mind.
The ego, so does Buddhism argue, is nothing more than a delusion created by our own minds.
This is the theory of course. To put this theory into practice the participants are challenged to confront themselves with what is often called the ego or selfish mind. That is the hardest part of the course since this is a practice that modern people, especially Westerners, are not used to. Via meditation sessions the students at Tushita Meditation Centre contemplate on the teachings and try to figure out how exactly their mind works. Often they find out that their minds are not very peaceful and full of running thoughts. Step by step, however, the teachings try to help the students understand their own mind and gives them the tools to transform their disturbed minds into peaceful minds.
In ‘The Role of the Ego’ (E-Verrekijkers, 42) my colleague Helena argues that the ego might be a main cause of modern Western diseases such as burn-outs and depressions. The teachings at Tushita Meditation Centre are completely in line with this view. By meditating on the nature of reality, however, the course participants are encouraged to search for their ego. Ultimately they will discover that the ego is nowhere to be found, neither in the body or the mind. The ego, so does Buddhism argue, is nothing more than a delusion created by our own minds.
A more meaningful life
According to Buddhism the ultimate goal is to achieve enlightenment. This is a permanent state of mind in which one enjoys everlasting happiness and experiences love and compassion for every sentient being. Even though every human being strives for everlasting happiness, the teachings at Tushita Meditation Centre are kept very realistic. The intention behind the courses is to give people a better understanding of themselves and to provide them with tools so that they can work on their own future happiness. In this way the centres at Dharamshala and New Delhi aim to guide their students to a more meaningful and happy life.
Gilles Van Hecke participated in an Introduction to Buddhismcourse in October 2019. If you would like to find out more about meditation or this course, you can address your questions to Gilles_vanhecke@hotmail.com. He will be very happy to help you.