In Atlanta Arya Samaj, I heard a lecture on Positivity by the Acharya of the temple. During his lecture, he said a positive thought is dharmic. This word has kept me contemplating. If we ask people they will say they want to avoid negative people. That is good. But, do we even understand what negativity means?
If we went back in time and asked people who loathed Buddha about Buddha then they would say Buddha is a negative person. Would that be a factual statement about Buddha? The word that Acharya Ji used becomes extremely important in defining negative and positive. From my understanding of Buddhist and Hindu philosophies, dharma means ethical living that promotes compassion and reduces suffering on the planet. The positive state is one that is free of Maya or illusions of the mind. It is a state where one looks at the world objectively without mind tainting it with its own prior experiences. Our liking or disliking of a person doesn’t make that person positive or negative.
A positive attitude doesn’t mean jumping off a building hoping we will not splatter when we hit the ground. It is a foolish attitude that is rooted in the illusions of the mind. A positive attitude should free us from illusions and also promote compassion and reduce suffering on the planet.
Thoughts appear in the vast emptiness of mind. Thoughts are based on one’s own experiences in life. If we had different experiences then we would have had different thoughts. I believe that even our own biology influences our thought process. In my meditation lecture at the temple, I talked about a science experiment that changed the personality of mice. The scientists changed the introvert mice into extrovert mice and extrovert mice into introvert mice and they did this by changing the microbiome in their guts. The Texas Tower Sniper Charles Whitman personality changed when he was hit by a brain tumor. He complained to the doctor about him having extreme thoughts of violence. Our own life experiences influence thoughts. Genes play an important role too.
There is no thinker of thoughts who sits in our head saying ‘I should create this thought’.
Thoughts appear in our mind all the time. Based on our classification of good and bad, we can say some are positive and some are negative. At the end of the day, they are just thoughts. They are powerless when we do not react to them. They are powerless when we don’t make them the center of our attention. The downward spiral starts once we get on the roller-coaster of the negative thought.
We all make mistakes in life. If life was perfect then there is no meaning in living as there would be nothing to improve. Life is imperfect and that gives us opportunities to fix the problems. But instead of addressing the problems, we punish ourselves for the mistakes we make in life. When others make mistakes, we tell them it is okay to make mistakes and correct them. But, we never tend to be compassionate towards ourselves. We inflict extreme damage on ourselves by making ourselves suffer for the mistakes we make. To escape from the suffering we inflict on ourselves, we take the aid of alcohol and drugs. We are always trying to run away from ourselves or we are harsh at ourselves. If not this then we are on a war footing with others that have transgressed our ego. We don’t have equanimity of mind.
Don’t be tough on self for making mistakes in life. Don’t be a negative person to yourself. Meditation is the only key to make our thoughts powerless. Meditation stops us from reacting to the thoughts that appear in the mind. When we sit in meditation, both positive and negative thoughts appear in our minds. In a normal situation, we would have started a war on others or self. But in meditation, we just observe the thought and make it powerless by not reacting to it.
We should also stop creating stories rooted in fiction that keep hurting us. For example, when we take a wrong turn that may make us go to an extremely important meeting late, we start cursing at ourselves. We start creating stories in our mind saying, ‘what if I am fired or what if I get demoted or what if I am removed from the project, etc’. We don’t know what is going to happen until it happens. All we are doing here is robbing peace. Being tough on ourselves will not change what may transpire. When we hear the news about impending layoffs in the office, we lose sleep. Our mind starts creating fictitious situations and fictitious problems. When the day of layoffs come, we hear that we were not impacted by the layoffs. All the suffering we created in our minds made our life a living hell.
The other big bizarre thing we do in life is to discern things as black and white. Everything we do has to fit one of those two. We forget that there is a huge grey area and not everything has to meet our definitions of success or failure.
Not just these, we react to events over which we have no control. There is a beautiful story in the life of Buddha. Buddha used to go to a village to preach and for alms. A lady in that village used to taunt him all the time. She used to curse him. She was angry at him for no reason. After many days of taunting, she asks Buddha why he didn’t react. For that Buddha said if you want to give a gift to a person and he doesn’t accept it then who has the gift? For that, the lady said she would have it. Buddha responded by saying he has not accepted the anger she threw at him. We should apply this lesson to our lives. There are many negative events that happen in our lives. They are outside our control. Like Buddha, we should stop reacting to the events. Be an island unto yourself. Buddha didn’t stop preaching because the woman was mad at him. He kept preaching and he kept not reacting to the events. Remember we cannot control the world or rearrange the universe to our liking. All we can do is stop reacting to the negative events that happen in our lives.
Always practice compassion towards self and others and practice meditation to realize emptiness and impermanance. It is our only way to escape the detrimental effects of negative thoughts. And, always be a voice to the animals as they have none to speak for them.