“Both formally, and now, it is only suffering and the stopping of suffering that I describe.” - Buddha
The Buddha is not a God. Buddhists do not worship the Buddha. Buddhists believe that by applying what the Buddha taught, they can stop suffering. They trust that what the Buddha learned in his lifetime are concepts we can apply to improve our own lives.
Just like those who lived thousands of years ago, we all suffer. Most of this suffering is created in our minds. The Buddha’s teachings (AKA Dhamma) are timeless because they teach one how to master their mind. They teach one how to take refuge from suffering. In the Buddhist sense, “taking refuge” means skillfully examining our intentions before taking action. If our intentions align with the Buddha’s teachings, we will be free of suffering. If not, we will suffer. This is called Karma.
To skillfully understand the intentions behind our actions, it takes practice. This practice in Buddhism is referred to as mindfulness. Mindfulness is cultivated by meditation. Meditation is the practice of observing one’s thoughts and judgements, and not identifying with them. It is learning to be conscious of our intentions, dictated by a train of thought, before taking action.
If you look at our world’s most morally atrocious people, you will find they are also the most unconscious. They tend to be very mentally ill individuals. Unconsciousness breeds depression. The extent to which one is depressed is determined by the extent to which they believe their own thoughts. The smarter the individual, the more likely they are to believe their own thoughts. The same is true for individuals subjected to significant trauma, especially childhood trauma.
The more reinforcement you receive from others, and the extent to which you depend on them for survival, the more likely you are to believe what they tell you. The younger you are, the more likely you are to believe what they tell you. The more you believe their messages about who you are, the more you will believe your thoughts reflecting those messages. This can lead to narcissism. Narcissists actions can be extremely hurtful but usually root from a childhood of inner hell. Narcissists seek so much admiration from others because in their mind they will never be good enough.
Narcissism is actually a survival mechanism. The messages you’re told as a child are carried into adulthood and, if not re-evaluated, can rip your soul apart. Take someone who was physically abused as a child, for example. They may have been told, “You deserve this.” The message they hear from that is, “I deserve to be hurt because I am a fundamentally bad person.” They may even interpret it as, “Love = Pain.” They believe it because it’s all they’ve known. They believe it because, as a kid, they didn’t have the power not to. They learn to believe all of their thoughts because they cannot distinguish the positive from the negative anymore, because it’s all true. And if you believe you are a bad person, it’s less difficult to actually fulfill that belief. If you believe that love = pain, it may be easier to unleash hell on the world.
Now take someone who was constantly praised as a child. This is who most people think of when they think of narcissists. This child may have been told, “You are going to be famous someday. You are going to do great things and make a significant impact on the world.” These individuals are always going to hold themselves to that level of expectation. And they will do whatever it takes to get there, even if it means hurting others. It is an endless chase for validation to fill a cold, dark, empty void.
Why is believing all of your thoughts a problem? When one believes their own thoughts for long enough, they become unconscious of them. If all their thoughts are “true,” there is no point in differentiating the “true” vs “false” thoughts. The brain is trained to trust itself to always make the right decision. In other words, they bypass listening to their thoughts and jump immediately to action. This is also known as emotional unintelligence: the inability to trace thoughts that lead to emotions, which ultimately lead to actions.
This has obvious historical implications. Look at the most cited abhorrent person, Adolf Hitler. Adolf was repeatedly physically and emotionally abused as a child. His authoritarian father regularly whipped Adolf and his brother. When Adolf turned 11, he decided he wasn’t going to cry when his father whipped him. He didn’t want to give his father any satisfaction from seeing him cry. Even when whipped over 30 times, he didn’t cry.
At 11 years old Adolf learned that expressing emotion gives people power over you. In an effort to gain control in an uncontrollably traumatic situation, he controlled the only thing he could. His emotions. But here’s the thing, you can’t control emotions. You can suppress them, but not well. The more you try to control your emotions, the more unhappy you will be. Because it is impossible. Emotions are to be worked through, not ignored and stored.
Power is sought most by the powerless. Those who experience childhood trauma know just how powerless it feels. When you are feeling powerless, you fight for control. Control is sought most by those who have been controlled. Once you get away from the controller, you feel free. But the fight for control continues; until you become conscious of it.
In Adolf’s case, he was repeatedly told by his father that he could not stop the whip from cracking and cutting his back. As it would with anyone, this bred a feeling of inferiority and powerlessness. This feeling of inferiority and powerlessness was carried into his adult life because he lacked the resources necessary to recognize and accept his past. Had he done so, the Holocaust may not have happened. Instead of working through his trauma, he projected the trauma he received as a child onto the world. He told Jews they were inferior, and killed them by the millions. He unleashed his inner hell to set the world on fire.
Those seeking control often tell themselves that once control is attained, they will be satisfied with their present situation. Control is an illusion. It is something that can never truly be attained. So, fighting for it will become an obsession. An obsession that cannot be satiated. Obsessions lead to compulsions, or forceful actions aimed at solving a problem. Problems are infinite in our own heads. A problem can be deciding what to eat this morning or deciding what career to pursue. An inability to decide leads to an action in an effort to rid this feeling of uncertainty. A compulsion is driven by a terrifying feeling of uncertainty and anxiety. It becomes insanity when your repeated compulsion never achieves the desired result. If the desired result is control, insanity will flourish because control is unattainable.
One of Adolf’s problems was a gnawing feeling of inferiority, powerlessness, self-hatred and existential emptiness. Rather than resolving those feelings internally, he sought to resolve them externally. Which never ends well, as we can see from history.
The past is past.
The future does not exist.
All there is is now.
Only by surrendering control are you able to learn and move on from the past.
Only by surrendering control are you able to accept the uncertainty of the future.
Only by surrendering control are you able to find peace in the present.
- Me (You better believe I just quoted myself.)