What is your problem?

What is your problem?

A young student at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor had the following question;

"I used to go to Buddhist temple when I was young. There was always one concept I was curious about. When talking to a monk, he told me I should empty my mind. Well, I think I am a pretty ambitious guy. So how can I reconcile being ambitious and empting my mind?"

There is no proof that emptying your mind is actually good for you. So, depending on the particular mind itself, it may be good to empty it or it may be good to fill it. It is not enough just to say empty your mind.

For example, here is a cup: should I lift it or should I put it down? You can't say. If I am thirsty, I should lift this cup to drink water. If the cup is too hot, I should put it down, so it doesn't burn my hand. But if you say, as a rule, you should always put the cup down, it won't always be the right decision. Decide what the situation is first, and then you can decide whether to lift the cup or put it down. So, if you hold a thought in your head and it's not good for you, then let it go. So, if you just say "Empty your mind" without knowing the situation, it doesn't work. But, if there is greed in your mind, you should empty it. Greed is not wanting to do something or become something. Greed is defined as wanting two things that contradict each other. And if you become greedy, then you bring suffering upon yourself because it's impossible to have two contradictory things at the same time. In that situation, you should empty your mind and let one of them go. So, if you just say empty your mind without any understanding of the situation, it is just rhetoric.

Never accept what another person says at face value, whoever that speaker may be, because it's not you saying it. You have to speak about your own problems. And, even sutras are words written in a text; they are not your words. Don't go through the trash somebody else throws away, but "eat your own food." Just because some famous monk says something doesn't make it meaningful for you. So what's causing you suffering now? What kinds of questions do you have now? It is always important to focus on your own issues.

This is a question that was asked during a live Dharma session at the University of Michigan in October, 2014.