How Can Mahayana Buddhism Teachings Help in Difficult Times?

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Answered by: Bill, An Expert in the Mahayana Buddhism Category
Let's face it, no matter how many wonderful things we may have in our lives, there is an underlying feeling of uneasiness that haunts everyone, even the rich and famous. We think that by getting more of the good things in life and by avoiding as many of the bad things as possible, we can obtain lasting happiness. But upon closer examination, we realize that the best we can hope for are temporary feelings of what we call happiness. Like honey on a razor blade, even the most delicious things in this world contain within them the potential for suffering. Why? Because our ego, that part of us that grasps and clings to pleasure, is insatiable and can never be fully satisfied.

So what is the answer? Is authentic happiness even possible? Fortunately, we have the teachings of the great masters of Mahayana Buddhism who have given us a path to follow that can loosen the grip of the ego and actually lead us to ultimate happiness in this lifetime. There have been volumes of texts written over the years that all agree on one point: The greater the ego, the greater the suffering. And the practices of Mahayana Buddhism are all designed to diminish the power of the ego and replace it with the aspiration to help relieve the suffering of all beings.

I would like to share some of the Mahayana teachings that I, and many other practitioners, have found to be helpful in hopes that others may also benefit from them. One of the basic teachings of Mahayana Buddhism is "The Great Path of Awakening" by Jamgon Kongtrul, which is based on "The Seven Points of Mind Training" written by Chekawa Yeshe Dorje in the 12th century. Other books based on these teachings, like "Training the Mind" by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and "Start Where You Are" by Pema Chodron are more contemporary writings that make these wonderful teachings more accessible to today's practitioners.

The teachings are based on a series of 59 maxims that are designed show us how to live our day-to-day lives in such a way as to shed the ego. These teachings are called Lojong, and include Tonglen meditation instruction, which encourages us to mentally take on the suffering of other beings and then give them our happiness. By doing this, we practice putting the happiness of others ahead of our own self-cherishing desires.

Another classic book on Mahayana Buddhism is "The Way of the Boddhisattva" (also known as "A Guide to the Boddhisattva's Way of Life") by Shantideva, which is the essential handbook of how to devote oneself to attaining awakening for the benefit of all beings. Like many ancient spiritual texts, these teachings can be misunderstood by a beginning practitioner and is best studied with the guidance of an advanced practitioner. Or, at the very least, it would be beneficial to read one of the versions that includes commentary from a contemporary master. Two that I recommend are "A Flash of Lighting In the Dark of Night" by His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, and "No Time To Lose" by Pema Chodron.

My personal daily practice begins with the reading of "Eight Verses on Thought Training" which was written by Geshe Langri Tangpa. The Dalai Lama has said that all of the teachings of the Buddha are contained in these verses. For more expanded instruction on training the mind, I recommend "The Heart of Compassion" by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, which provides commentary of Ngulchu Thogme's "Thirty-Sevenfold Practice of a Bodhisattva."

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